Finland: the vitamin D pioneer
How fortification and supplementation has transformed the health of a nation
Cold snap
In the 1950s Finland had a major problem with rickets in children.
It was blamed on vitamin D deficiency caused by Finland’s long, dark winters.
Vitamin D, which is principally obtained from sunlight, is known to prevent rickets and improve bone mineral density.
The government in Helsinki knew it had to act.
Finns could only get better
The Finnish authorities launched a programme of vitamin D supplementation in babies and children. It worked. Today, there is no rickets in Finland.
Fifty years later, inspired by this success, politicians took steps to bring the benefits of vitamin D to a wider population.
They launched one of the biggest fortification initiatives the world had ever seen.
And one of the most effective.
Double Take
Finland’s goal was to ensure every one of its citizens consumed sufficient levels of vitamin D.
So, in 2003, the government introduced mandatory fortification of milk and margarine spreads.
The impact was huge.
Between 2007 and 2012, vitamin D intake
for men and women aged 25 to 74
Doubled 1
Both fortification of food and supplementation contributed to this increase.
Status update
Just as important as vitamin D intake is vitamin D status, which is a measure of how much of it there is in the body.
The accepted test for establishing an individual’s vitamin D status is 25(OH)D, which calculates levels of vitamin D in the blood. 2
Below 25 nmol/litre (10 ng/ml) is considered deficient
25-50 nmol/litre (10-20 ng/ml) is considered insufficient
50-75 nmol/litre (20-30 ng/ml) is considered adequate
How did Finland’s fortification and supplementation programme affect vitamin D status?
The answer to that question may surprise you.
In 2000, before the fortification programme began, only one third of the Finnish population had an adequate vitamin D status. 3
By 2011, the figure was 90%
But that’s not all…
When scientists analysed the vitamin D status of Finnish people after the second fortification programme in 2010, they found the average was 75.9 nmol/litre.
This is important because many scientists now agree that a vitamin D status of 75 nmol/litre (30 ng/ml) and above is optimal.
Why do they think this?
Besides increased bone density, optimal vitamin D status is associated with improved muscle strength, a healthy immune system and normal blood pressure levels.
It may also offer benefits in relation to reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
Finnish on a high note
Thanks to Finland’s pioneering fortification and supplementation initiative, a significant portion of its population is now in a position to enjoy the benefits of optimal vitamin D status.
Furthermore, the programme has been such a resounding success that other countries are considering following Finland’s lead.