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Dubai: Over 90 per cent of the UAE population is Vitamin D-deficient and the food industry is now being asked to fortify juices, milk and other dairy products with the vitamin, said Wafa Ayesh, director of Clinical Nutrition at the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and chairperson of the third edition of Dubai Nutrition Conference which started on Thursday.

She spoke to Gulf News on the sidelines of the three-day conference.

Following the two-year ongoing Vitamin D study being conducted in collaboration with Professor Michael Holick, an American endocrinologist and celebrated authority on Vitamin D deficiency, the DHA has now started a 22-week food education programme in nurseries to train parents on how to provide balanced nutrition to their children.

“This is part of our DHA innovation series. For instance, a child requires 1.5gm protein per kilogram of the body weight and requires several other micro-nutrients such as iron, Vitamin A, B, C, D and K. The best way to do this on a ‘plate visual’ is to have half the plate full of fruits and vegetables, and the other half full of grains and proteins. The child must have three meals and two snacks in a day and have milk or other dairy products with each of these meals. Fats and sugars are to be at a minimum and the fat must come from poly- or mono-saturated sources. All hydrogenated fats must be avoided,” Ayesh said.

Alerting to the dangers of Vitamin D deficiency, Professor Holick told Gulf News: “Vitamin D deficiency is a major health issue around the world and adults require to have 2,000 units of Vitamin D per day. Pregnant women who have a Vitamin D deficiency have a higher risk of pre-eclampsia and premature delivery. Studies also indicate that women born to Vitamin D-deficient women can suffer from conditions such as schizophrenia, asthma and some forms of development disorders. Children from the age of one year up to their teenage years require 600-1,000 units of Vitamin D per day. If a person is obese, he or she requires two to three times the stipulated amount of Vitamin D.

“It is also indicated that if a child is deficient in Vitamin D for the first 10 years of life, he or she is likely to suffer from multiple sclerosis and has an 88 per cent risk of developing Type I or 33 per cent risk of Type II diabetes.”

Ayesh added that making simple changes to one’s lifestyle could help replenish Vitamin D. “In the UAE, absorption of Vitamin D is possible in sunlight only from 10am to 3pm. People need to expose nearly 40 per cent of their skin, avoid wearing a sunscreen and face sunlight for 30 minutes in a day within these hours. Those with lighter skin can do with exposure for just 15 minutes. Having 12 almonds a day can help you replenish your Vitamin D reserves. Those with severe Vitamin D deficiency might require injections or supplements that are also fortified with magnesium as this micronutrient helps in better absorption of Vitamin D.”

 It is the objective of this conference to promote healthy nutrition and behavioural changes that will lead to enhancement in public health and fitness and help in reducing the cost of health care by preventing diseases.”

 - Humaid Mohammad Obaid Al Qutami | Director-general of DHA 

Inaugurating the conference, Humaid Mohammad Obaid Al Qutami, chairman of the board of directors and director-general of DHA, stressed upon the importance of balanced nutrition in staving off malnutrition and non-communicable and chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and pat types of cancers. “It is the objective of this conference to promote healthy nutritional pattern and behavioural changes, have correct image of food that will lead to enhancement in public health and fitness and help in reducing the cost of health by preventing diseases.”

Al Qutami also commended the ongoing Dubai Fitness Challenge campaign as reflecting the spirit of the country and preserving a healthy lifestyle for UAE residents.

Vitamin D facts

Best time to absorb sun: 10am-3pm

40% of skin surface needs to be exposed to sun

Face sunlight for 30 minutes

Lighter-skinned individuals can do a 15-minute sun absorption

Eat 12 almonds a day


Dangers of Vitamin D deficiency

Pregnant women with low Vitamin D risk pre-eclampsia and premature delivery

Children born to Vitamin D-deficient mothers can suffer from conditions such as schizophrenia, asthma and some forms of development disorders


First 10 years of life

Deficiency can likely make the child in later years suffer from multiple sclerosis


88% risk of developing Type I

33% risk of Type II diabetes

in newborns with Vitamin D deficiency


600-1,000 units of Vitamin D per day

needed for children from 1 year up to teenage