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Vitamin D comments by London public - July 2015

"Test me and treat me" —attitudes to vitamin D deficiency and supplementation: a qualitative study

BMJ Open 2015;5: e007401. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2014-007401
Siddharth Kotta,1 Dev Gadhvi,1 Niki Jakeways,1 Maryum Saeed,1 Ratna Sohanpal,1 Sally Hull,1 Olufunke Famakin,2 Adrian Martineau,1 Chris Griffiths1 c.j.griffiths at qmul.ac.uk
1 Centre for Primary Care and Public Health, Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research, Blizard Institute, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK 2Department of Clinical Chemistry, Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Homerton Row, London, UK

Objective: Lay interest in vitamin D and the potential benefits of supplementation is considerable, but little information exists concerning lay knowledge, beliefs and attitudes towards vitamin D to inform public health initiatives and professional guidance.

Design: Qualitative focus group study.

Participants: 58 adults capturing diversity in disease status, gender, age and ethnicity.

Setting: A large general practice in east London.

Results: Many respondents lacked knowledge about vitamin D, including dietary sources and government recommendations. Most were positive about sun exposure, but confused by ambiguous health messages about risks and benefits of sunshine. Medicalised views of vitamin D were prominent, notably from those in favour of supplementation, who talked of "doses", "side effects" and "regular testing." Fortification of food with vitamin D was controversial, with opposing utilitarian (better overall for the majority) and libertarian (freedom to choose) views.
Conclusions: Knowledge about vitamin D was limited. Clearer messages are needed about risks and benefits of sun exposure. Testing and supplementation by health professionals, while potentially useful in some high-risk groups, have contributed to a medicalised view of vitamin D. Health policy should address the public's need for clear information on sources and effects of vitamin D, including risks and benefits of sun exposure, and take account of divergent views on fortification. Professional guidance is needed on testing and supplementation to counter
inappropriate medicalisation.

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