Nestlé leads new research on vitamin D deficiency in office workers

Jun 22, 2011
Nestlé employees enjoying some sunshine SPENDING TIME OUTDOORS: Vitamin D is an essential micronutrient which is produced naturally by the body through exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays

Nestlé underlines its global commitment to fighting chronic disease in the workplace by commissioning new research on vitamin D deficiency in Australian office workers.

A joint study by the Company and the University of Sydney has revealed that one in three Australian workers is deficient in the essential micronutrient during the summer.

The research - the first of its kind to be carried out in Australia - examined the vitamin D levels of 104 male and female employees at Nestlé’s Australian headquarters in Sydney.

Dr Penny Small, Nestlé Australia’s Head of Corporate Nutrition, outlined why the study was commissioned, and said: “In 2008, Nestlé signed a multi-company, global commitment to the World Health Organisation to fight chronic disease in the workplace.

“As part of our commitment in Australia, we really wanted to get an understanding of how mounting evidence into vitamin D deficiency was playing out in the workforce.”

The study found that 42% of workers recorded low levels of vitamin D by the end of winter.

Deficiency in vitamin D, which is produced naturally by the body through exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, puts them at greater risk of reproductive problems, poor muscle function and the brittle bone disease osteoporosis.

Alarming results

Professor Rebecca Mason, a world expert in vitamin D from the Bosch Institute and Sydney Medical School led the joint research.

She explained why she was so concerned by the outcome: “In a relatively young and healthy population you don’t expect these results.

“One of the causes of the deficiency could be linked to people working longer hours in more sedentary jobs as well as spending more leisure time indoors.

“What’s really alarming is that some of the women in the study were of childbearing age and vitamin D is important for the healthy development of a foetus as well as beneficial to the health of the mother.”

Preventative measures

alt text here please SUSTAGEN SPORT: The sports nutrition product is fortified with vitamin D.

Nestlé already offers preventative medicine programmes to its employees in more than 95% of its sites around the world - including Australia - covering blood tests and vaccinations as well as nutrition training.

It is also the world’s largest provider of micronutrient fortification, offering a range of fortified products to help improve the nutritional status of consumers in both developing and developed countries.

Dr Small explained how studies such as the one commissioned by Nestlé in Australia help to inform not only the company’s workplace wellness programme, but also its future product development in the country.

She said: “The research has prompted a lot of discussion on how we can use the results to benefit not only us here at Nestlé, but also the wider community.

“In Australia, vitamin D is in our Sustagen and Nestlé Malted Milk Powder products, but we will definitely be looking at this issue in more detail.

“We are keen to work with experts such as Professor Mason and with Government authorities on further vitamin D fortification of foods.”

The study also revealed that people who ate fish had higher levels of vitamin D compared with those who did not; 90% of those with dark skin were deficient by the end of winter; and people who used sunscreen had higher levels than those that don’t.

Micronutrient deficiencies

The four most prominent micronutrient deficiencies worldwide concern iron, vitamin A, iodine and zinc.

Ideally, these essential nutrients should be obtained from a normal, varied diet. However, for a number of reasons many people do not consume a healthy balanced diet.

While developing countries are most severely affected, the problem is widespread and micronutrient deficiencies are also significant in certain populations within industrialised countries.

Related information:
Nestlé Australia website
The University of Sydney website

Related pages:
Micronutrient fortification