Press Release

Vitamin D Deficiency May Compromise Immune Function

February 25, 2014

Spending time outdoors could boost vitamin levels, improve quality of life

Washington, DC—Among severely obese people, vitamin D may make the difference between an active and a more sedentary lifestyle, according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

The study found severely obese people who also were vitamin D-deficient walked slower and were less active overall than their counterparts who had healthy vitamin D levels. Poor physical functioning can reduce quality of life and even shorten lifespans.

Severe obesity occurs when a person’s body mass index (BMI) exceeds 40. About 6.5 percent of American adults are severely obese.

“People with severe obesity already are eight times more likely to have poor physical function than people with a healthy BMI,” said one of the study’s authors, Tomás Ahern, MB, BCh, BAO, of St. Columcille’s Hospital and St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin, Ireland. “Poor vitamin D status contributes to the deterioration of physical function in this population. Among those with severe obesity, 43 percent are at risk of vitamin D deficiency.”

The cross-sectional study examined physical functioning and vitamin D levels in 252 severely obese people. Participants were timed as they walked 500 meters and climbed up and down a single step 50 times. They also provided estimates of their physical activity.

Researchers took a blood sample to measure each participant’s vitamin D levels. For analysis, the study population was divided into three groups based on vitamin D levels.

The study found the group with the highest vitamin D levels had the fastest walking times and highest amount of self-reported physical activity. This group also had the lowest average BMI of the study participants.

“Improving vitamin D status should improve quality of life and may decrease the risk of early death in people with severe obesity,” Ahern said. “This could be a simple matter of spending more time outside, since sun exposure can boost the body’s natural vitamin D production.”

Other authors of the study include: E. O’Malley and C. Dunlevy of St. Columcille’s Hospital; M. Kilbane and M.J. McKenna of St. Vincent’s University Hospital; and A. Khattak, C. Woods and D. O’Shea of both hospitals.

The study, “Association between Vitamin D Status and Physical Function in the Severely Obese,” was published online, ahead of print.

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Endocrinologists are at the core of solving the most pressing health problems of our time, from diabetes and obesity to infertility, bone health, and hormone-related cancers. The Endocrine Society is the world’s oldest and largest organization of scientists devoted to hormone research and physicians who care for people with hormone-related conditions.

The Society has more than 18,000 members, including scientists, physicians, educators, nurses and students in 122 countries. To learn more about the Society and the field of endocrinology, visit our site at www.endocrine.org. Follow us on Twitter at @TheEndoSociety and @EndoMedia.


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Colleen Williams Manager, Public Relations Phone: (202)-971-3611 cwilliams@endocrine.org

Jenni Glenn Gingery Associate Director, Communications and Media Relations Phone: (202)-971-3655 jgingery@endocrine.org

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