Ever had a hard time trying to get a friend or two to supplement with vitamin D? New research published in JAMA Internal Medicine reveals underlying reasons why some people choose to supplement, perhaps giving you a little insight on some strategies to make your efforts more successful.
The study, led by Dr Regan Bailey of the Office of Dietary Supplements, surveyed people enrolled in the NHANES cohort over the years 2007 and 2008. After excluding those younger than 20, lactating or pregnant women, they collected information from nearly 12,000 people.
Let’s fly through the results:
- 49% of people reported taking supplements within the past 30 days of the survey. Women were more likely to supplement (54%) than men (43%). People over 60 and Caucasians were most likely to take supplements. Those who had health-insurance were also more likely to supplement, as well as people who reported to be in good health. And those who drank one or more alcoholic beverage per day were more likely to supplement.
- People that were either underweight or overweight were less likely to take supplements.
Of the people who took supplements, why did they choose to supplement? (They could choose multiple reasons.)
- 45% reported to “improve overall health.”
- 33% reported to “maintain health.”
- 25% reported for “bone health.” This was a significantly higher reason for women (36%) than men (11%).
- 22% reported to “supplement the diet.”
- 20% reported to “prevent health problems.”
- 15% reported for “heart health, lower cholesterol.” This was a significantly higher reason for men (17%) than women (13%).
- 15% also reported to “boost immunity, fight colds.”
What kinds of supplements are people taking?
- 32% of people reported taking a multivitamin-mineral.
- 12% reported taking calcium (19% of women, 5% men).
- 10% took fish oil or some kind of omega-3.
- 5% took vitamin D, making it the 7th most popular product. Why did people take vitamin D? The most common reason was for “bone health,” and thus more women reported taking vitamin D (7%) than men (3%).
These data give some guidance to public health professionals and health care providers to develop strategies to ensure people get the supplements they most need. While research may be inadequate for the use of some supplements, it may be ample for the use of others.
In the case for vitamin D, most here on the blog would contend that there is ample need for supplementation, especially when considering you cannot get adequate amounts from your diet, and very few people get enough sun/UV exposure to synthesize enough vitamin D. Even the most conservative of doctors would suggest a vitamin D supplement upon a vitamin D blood draw reading deficient.
Thus the question begs, how do we approach recommending vitamin D supplementation? The past few years, I have seen a heavy focus on the “prevention message” for vitamin D. Is this the wrong strategy? Here, only 20% of reported supplement users took vitamins to prevent health problems.
Should the focus be shifted to “vitamin D for bone health” when engaging with women? Should we focus on a general message of “improve your general health” rather than “prevent health problems”?
Should we encourage the manufacturing and formulation of combined calcium and vitamin D supplements? If an astounding 12% of people take calcium supplements, should vitamin D not ride that coattail? If 10% take fish oil for heart health, should vitamin D not also ride the omega-3 coattail and be combined with it as well?
While vitamin D awareness has made leaps the past 10 years, these data show there is still much more awareness to be spread. Since vitamin D cannot be obtained from the diet, it is not implausible that one day it is the most used supplement. The question arises, how can we shrink that gap, that time from now until then?
Members, what do you think?