Purpose of review
Vitamin D is essential for bone health, and may also have important functions in immunity and other systems. Vitamin D deficiency is common, and testing and supplementation is increasing. Serum vitamin D is lower in obese people; it is important to understand the mechanism of this effect and whether it indicates clinically significant deficiency.
Vitamin D is fat soluble, and distributed into fat, muscle, liver, and serum. All of these compartments are increased in volume in obesity, so the lower vitamin D likely reflects a volumetric dilution effect and whole body stores of vitamin D may be adequate. Despite lower serum vitamin D, obese adults do not have higher bone turnover or lower bone mineral density. Patients undergoing bariatric surgery do have bone loss, and ensuring vitamin D sufficiency in these patients may help to attenuate bone loss.
Lower vitamin D in obese people is a consistent finding across age, ethnicity, and geography. This may not always reflect a clinical problem. Obese people need higher loading doses of vitamin D to achieve the same serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D as normal weight.