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Sunscreen Not Cause Of Vitamin D Deficiency

Sunscreen Not Cause Of Vitamin D Deficiency

Suggestions that SunSmart behaviour might result in New Zealand children developing fragile bones later in life are misleading and irresponsible, says the Cancer Society.

A study co-authored by Otago University human nutrition lecturer Tim Green indicates 31 percent of New Zealand children had lower levels of vitamin D than was desirable and four percent were deficient. Vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets and lead to osteoporosis later in life.

An article published yesterday in the Otago Daily Times and circulated by NZPA says spending more time in the sun or not using sunscreen could help increase children’s vitamin D levels.

“While it goes on to quote Dr Green as saying this was not recommended because it would increase the risk of developing skin cancer, the impression left is that people should stop using sunscreen if they don’t want to develop osteoporosis which is utter nonsense,” says Carolyn Watts, Health Promotion Manager of the Cancer Society.

Vitamin D is produced in the skin by exposure to ultraviolet radiation in sunlight. It can also be obtained from foods such as milk, margarine, oily fish, liver, eggs and cheese.

“It is simply irresponsible to suggest that based on this research there is a link between the sun protection behaviour of New Zealand children and Vitamin D deficiency. A far more likely cause of vitamin D deficiency in children, which is based on the same research data used by Dr Green, is that some children do not spend enough time in activity out of doors. Fifty percent of children are driven to and from school and more than 10 percent of Maori and Pacific children spend in excess of 20 hours per week either watching TV or videos” says Ms Watts.

“Only a tiny amount of sun is needed each day to generate healthy vitamin D levels – about 15 minutes a day is enough,” Ms Watts says. “It’s therefore ludicrous to imply that sun protection measures have resulted in reduced vitamin D levels in the community.”

She says most people can get their vitamin D from exposure to the sun during their normal daily activities, and they should continue to Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap to prevent skin cancer.

“No one is advocating total sun avoidance - the Cancer Society recommends that people use sun protection during daylight saving months between 11am and 4am – when the UV radiation is highest.

If people are concerned they are not getting enough vitamin D they can boost their levels by taking a short walk in the morning or late afternoon and avoiding the hottest part of the day.

The study showed children of Pacific Island origin were more likely to have insufficient vitamin D. Ms Watts says darker skinned people do need more sunlight exposure to produce vitamin D, however, even darker skinned people can obtain sufficient sunlight exposure and still be SunSmart, provided they spend some time out of doors and do not completely cover their skin.

“New Zealand and Australia have the highest rates of melanoma in the world. More than 200 people die in New Zealand every year from melanoma caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

“It is extremely disappointing to have the decades of work undertaken by the Cancer Society to promote SunSmart behaviour for New Zealanders called into question when there is no evidence to suggest that SunSmart behaviour is the cause of vitamin D deficiency.

“If New Zealand children today have vitamin D deficiency it is more likely because they spend so much time playing computer games or watching television indoors than because they’ve been using too much sunscreen,” Ms Watts says.

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