The “Colonial Hangover” Contributing to Vitamin D Deficiency

A potent combination of shadeism, skin tone, climate change, and pollution put South Asians at greater risk for vitamin D deficiency — which can have life-altering consequences.

Vitamin D

Olivia Bowden


October 27, 2022

When Roopa Cheema’s father died, she stopped going outside. For the Toronto woman, the sun, the outdoors, and places that were loud and brimming with life were too much to take.

“I would wait until the sun went down and that’s when I went grocery shopping, or that’s when I’d meet up with friends,” she said. This was in 2016, and at the time, Cheema tweeted that she hadn’t seen the sun in months. A nurse who saw her post slid into her DMs and cautioned that sun avoidance could lead to a vitamin D deficiency. 

Vitamin D helps maintain healthy bones and balanced calcium levels. At the time, Cheema didn’t know how a vitamin D deficiency can take a toll on the body — contributing to the risk of fatigue and mood swings and, in more severe cases, even cancer — and how widespread the issue is among South Asians. South Asians are experiencing what one U.K. study termed an “unrecognized epidemic” of vitamin D deficiency. If left unaddressed, this growing health concern  — fueled partly by a “colonial hangover,” skin tone, increasing air pollution, and climate change  — can have life-changing consequences.

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