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A Survey of University Students’ Vitamin D–Related Knowledge

Objective: To survey Canadian university students’ vitamin D–related knowledge.

Methods: Undergraduate university students (n = 1,088) were surveyed as to their vitamin D–related knowledge, including its sources, health benefits, and recommended intake.

Results: Overall, students answered 29% of questions correctly on the knowledge test. In addition, the overall test was subdivided into 3 subtests, and students scored 26% on vitamin D source knowledge, 23% on factors affecting vitamin D levels, and 37% on health effects of vitamin D. Only 8% of participants correctly identified the recommended vitamin D intake; 14% correctly identified the amount of time in the sun required to produce adequate vitamin D.

Conclusions and Implications: These results suggest that Canadian university students have poor knowledge concerning vitamin D. Program planners should consider improving vitamin D knowledge as a component of future health promotion programs for university students.


Alex’s Notes: I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the study at hand mainly applies to a single urban Canadian university and its majority white (74%), aged 17-21 (75%) female (71%) undergraduate. The bad news… everything else (almost).

The researchers sent out an email to the entire undergraduate cohort at a single university that contained a link to their self-made brief survey. It was simply seven multiple choice questionnaire that evaluated vitamin D related knowledge and took about five minutes to complete. It also collected some demographic information such as the gender, ethnicity, age, and selected major. About 33% were in the social sciences, 23% in the health sciences, 17% in the medical sciences, and 4% in the arts.

So this next piece is actually somewhat good news, but also very confusing. That is, 99% of the students had heard of vitamin D before taking the survey. All this does is have me wonder what the hell the ten students of the 1% were doing. Regardless, 60% reported not taking any supplemental vitamin D and of the 40% who did, 14% took vitamin D as an ingredient in their multivitamin. This becomes more discouraging when looking to survey results, as survey scores ranged from 0.49% (…………) to 88.95% with an average of 30%. When divided into sub-domains, scores averaged 26% for vitamin D source knowledge, 24% for factors affecting vitamin D levels, and 37% for the health effects of vitamin D. The medical and health sciences students performed significantly better than the arts and social sciences.

So why is this so discouraging? Because nutrition-related knowledge of college students influences what they eat. Moreover, these students live in Canada, which makes vitamin D via the sun inaccessible for about half the year. The Health Belief Model assumes that people will perform healthy behaviors if they perceive a serious threat to their health, that a healthy behavior would reduce their risk of this threat, that there are minimal barriers to performing the behavior, and have the ability to effectively implement or execute the behavior. As such, the students from this survey indicated a lack of knowledge in all these areas, which explains why such a low number take a dedicated vitamin D supplement.

So while I am going to repeat myself and remind us that this study mainly applies to a single urban Canadian university and its majority white (74%), aged 17-21 (75%) female (71%) undergraduates, the bottom line is the knowledge is empowering. It doesn’t matter if you know everything about where to get vitamin D, how much you need, or why you need it. What matters is having a little know-how of all three and applying it to your life. Those of us in a position to educate must do so.


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