Dark-skinned and veiled infants, children and adults should be screened annually for vitamin D deficiency, and vitamin D supplementation should be provided to those at-risk in this population, a finding published in the Medical Journal of Australia recommends.
Researchers found 147 of 149 North African refugees living in south-western Sydney who took part in a health-screening program in August and September 2006 were vitamin D deficient.
In February and March 2007 (the end of summer), the 91 of the original group were re-tested, and although vitamin D levels had increased, 79 (87%) remained vitamin D deficient.
Study co-author Dr Craig Munns, Staff Specialist Endocrinologist at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, said vitamin D deficiency had been linked to a range of health problems.
"Although simple vitamin D deficiency is often asymptomatic, adults may present with bone pain, myalgia, myopathy, increased risk of falls, osteoporosis and hip fractures," Dr Munns said.
"Children may present with hypocalcaemic seizures, bowed limbs, fractures and motor delay."
As skin pigmentation increases, so does the period of exposure to ultraviolet B radiation from sunlight needed to synthesise adequate amounts of vitamin D. Dr Munns said people with darker skin or who wore veils should have their vitamin D levels checked every year.
"Screening should also take part in the first trimester of pregnancy for darker-skinned or veiled women. Breastfed infants of darker-skinned or veiled women should receive vitamin D supplements until 12 months of age," Dr Munns said.
"People in at risk groups should take preventative daily 400 IU vitamin D supplements."
(Source: Australian Medical Association: Medical Journal of Australia: April 2009)