The vitamin D deficiency epidemic is more serious than anyone may have imagined, according to several new reports. If your doctor said you are deficient or insufficient, this is one diagnosis you are not alone in receiving.

“An estimated 50 to 70 percent of the national population is either vitamin D deficient or insufficient,” says Kenneth L. Seldeen, research assistant professor of medicine in Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at University at Buffalo in New York.

Last month, new data was presented at European Society of Endocrinology in Barcelona that associates the battle of the bulge with vitamin D deficiency. “The strong relationship between increasing amounts of abdominal fat and lower levels of vitamin D suggests that individuals with larger waistlines are at a greater risk of developing deficiency,” says Rachida Rafiq from the VU University Medical Center and Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. She analyzed men and women 45 to 65 years old who participated in the Netherlands Epidemiology of Obesity study.

Health Risks

Vitamin D helps provide calcium for healthy, strong bones, among other things. Results from several scientific studies linking lack of vitamin D to serious health conditions have been released within the last month. The findings are quite startling.

Prolonged under-exposure to vitamin D may reduce stamina and performance, according to research that Seldeen and partner Dr. Bruce R. Troen, conducted on mice. “The take-home message of this study is that while having low serum vitamin D for a month or even a year or two may not matter for a person, over several decades it may have clinical ramifications,” Seldeen says.

The National Institute of Health published a study last month in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology that suggests vitamin D “may play a protective role in pregnancy.” It goes on to say that women trying to conceive after miscarriage are more likely to become pregnant and successfully deliver a healthy baby if they have a sufficient level of vitamin D.

Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is no laughing matter. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, about 200,000 Americans are diagnosed with ILD annually, and life expectancy is less than five years after diagnosis. New data analysis released this month in Journal of Nutrition says that low vitamin D levels could be a contributing factor to developing ILD.

Another recent study, published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute, may have found a connection between vitamin D and colorectal cancer. “For both men and women, deficient levels of vitamin D were associated with a 30 percent increase risk of colorectal cancer,” says Marji McCullough, a nutritional epidemiologist for American Cancer Society and co-author of the report.

Researchers do emphasize that although their discoveries found a correlation between low levels of vitamin D and specific health conditions, further research is required to determine whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship.

Take Action

As a planner, you can give attendees the gift of a pocketful of sunshine by taking meetings outdoors during warm weather months. Provide guests with sunscreen to protect them from the harmful ultraviolet rays that can lead to skin cancer. Many hotels, CVBs, companies and events use sunscreen bottles as a branding opportunity by customizing the label. Some travel-size bottles even come with a loop to conveniently put on a keychain.

“The truth is, it doesn’t take much sun exposure for the body to produce vitamin D. Even committed proponents of unprotected sun exposure recommend no more than 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to arms, legs, abdomen and back, two to three times a week, followed by good sun protection,” wrote Dr. Anne Marie McNeill and Erin Wesner in The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal. “That minor amount of exposure produces all the vitamin D your body can muster.”

Eggs and oily fish, such as sardines, herring, tuna, salmon and mackerel, contain vitamin D. Consider including these items in your catering selection at meetings and events.

At LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, a Noble House Resort, in Naples, Florida, groups can sign up for the Vitamin D Break package that includes essential oils and lotions, as well as a choice of a chair massage or water yoga class. The scrambled-egg station features regular and egg whites, tomatoes, grilled red onions, cheddar cheese, goat cheese, smoked salmon, diced ham, mushrooms, green onions and red peppers. An assortment of juices is available at the juice bar. For dessert, guests can nosh on chocolate-covered dried oranges, Meyer lemon bars and key-lime mini scones.

Consult with a medical professional before taking a supplement to inquire if it is necessary for your body and to be prescribed the proper dosage. Vitamins for both vegans and nonvegans are available. Consuming too much vitamin D comes with a different set of risks, such as toxicity, excess calcium in the blood and kidneys, nausea, vomiting and fluctuation in mental state.