In order to address the rising incidences of Vitamin ‘D’ deficiencies (VDD) in young people FSSAI has launched a unique initiative, ‘Project Dhoop’ in association with NCERT, NDMC, and North MCD Schools. Project Dhoop was launched on the occasion of World Health Day and was organized at National Bal Bhavan. The initiative has been conceptualized by McCann Health and is supported by Kwality. Project Dhoop seeks to promote sunlight as a natural source of Vitamin D and so schools are being encouraged to shift their morning assembly to noon time; mainly between 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. to ensure maximum absorption of Vitamin D in students through natural sunlight.
People require very small amounts of micronutrients and vitamins, but they act like “magic wands” to enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development. While micronutrient needs might be small but their absence can impact health severely. Vitamin A, D, B12, Iron, Folic Acid, and Iodine, are the most important and deficiencies in these represents a major threat to the development and health of populations all over the world and in India, it particularly affects children and pregnant women.
Fish and fish products are the only food source of Vitamin D but most Indians, obtain Vitamin D mainly by exposure to sunlight. Sunlight acts on cholesterol in the skin to convert it to Vitamin D via additional conversions in the liver and kidneys. Most parts of India receive abundant sunshine all through the year, yet shockingly, studies have found that more than 90% of boys and girls across various India are deficient in Vitamin D. In Delhi alone, 90-97% of school children (aged 6-17 years) have Vitamin D deficiency and around 10-11% of these children exhibit signs of Vitamin D deficiency.
Many factors can contribute to Vitamin D deficiency such as
- overuse of sunscreen
- wearing clothes that cover most of the skin
- remaining indoors
- working inside all day in an air-conditioned atmosphere
Speaking at the launch Mr. Pawan Agarwal, CEO FSSAI stated that in India, despite the fact that most children suffer from Vitamin D deficiency there is a lack of awareness about the serious consequences this can have. FSSAI has always endeavored to educate the community and therefore they have
- Proposed ‘Noon Assembly’ as an innovative and effective concept to ensure that school students get adequate Vitamin D through sunlight,
- Project Dhoop also encourages children to opt for food products like milk and edible oils that are fortified with Vitamins A and D.
- Opting for fortified foods (with +F symbol) is a simple and inexpensive way to address micronutrient deficiencies without any radical change in behavior or eating patterns.
- Both fortified milk and fortified edible oil are now readily available across the country.
Retired Major General Dr. R K Marwaha, Scientific Advisor and Senior Consultant endocrinology also spoke at the launch event and stated that the human body needs Vitamin D to make bones strong and is required for other systemic functions of the body. Nearly 90% of Vitamin D requirement is met by adequate exposure to sunlight and remaining 10% needs can be met through diet. He also pointed out that contrary to popular belief that morning sunshine is best, it is actually the 11 A.M to 1 P.M sunshine that is most beneficial for increasing Vitamin D levels in a human body because UVB radiations are the best at that time. Since almost 40 to 60% of the adult bone mass is accumulated during childhood, so it is important for children to be exposed to sunshine for strong bones and strong immune system.
General Marwaha also pointed out that a person can get an abundant amount of Vitamin D by exposing only 18% of body surface area to sunshine at noon (without sunscreen) for just 30-45 minutes. If the school uniforms are designed to expose both forearms and face to sunlight then 12% of body surface area would get sunlight. The simple act of shifting morning assembly in schools to Noon Assembly and careful designing of school uniforms would enable students to meet a large percentage of Vitamin D requirements.
NCERT, NDMC and North MCD Schools representatives and school authorities were happy to be a part of ‘Project Dhoop.’ They stated that they would seriously consider the Noon Assembly option to take advantage of the freely available and beneficial sunshine. They also intend to advise schools to shift morning assembly to noon assembly, especially as this small change will enable children to grow into healthy adults. Kwality, which is supporting the initiative, was glad to be a part of Project Dhoop and has already recognized the vital role of Vitamin D in diets. They have fortified their milk and milk products with Vitamin D and other essential nutrients.
The event saw participation from 600 school-children from schools in the National Capital Region of Delhi including the NDMC, North MCD, and private schools. The school children were made aware of healthy nutrition, food fortification, and importance of Vitamin D through entertaining skits involving health mascots of FSSAI, songs, and dance performances. At the conclusion of the event, participating school children formed the ‘+F’ logo. Ashish Bahuguna, Chairperson, FSSAI hoped that the Project Dhoop initiative would spread awareness about Vitamin D and encourage people across the country to take in as much sunlight as possible to combat Vitamin D deficiency.