Vitamin D deficiency: are you at risk?

Wednesday 16 May, 2012

SunSmart is warning that certain parts of the population may be at risk of low or deficient vitamin D levels during Victoria's autumn and winter months.

Craig Sinclair, Director of the Cancer Prevention Centre at Cancer Council Victoria, said groups at risk include people with naturally very dark skin, individuals with little or no sun exposure including those that are housebound or in institutionalised care, communities who wear concealing clothing for religious or cultural purposes, breastfed babies whose mothers are vitamin D-deficient and people with conditions or medications affecting vitamin D metabolism.

"From May to August in Victoria, people with fair to olive skin need two to three hours of midday winter sun exposure to the face, hands and arms (or equivalent area of skin) spread over the week."

"However, people with naturally darker skin may require up to three to six times more sun exposure to help with their vitamin D levels. During the cold and wet winter months in Victoria, it may simply not be practical or possible for some people to get this many hours of sun exposure each week."

A recent study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that 85% of children diagnosed in Australia with rickets, due to vitamin d deficiency, had naturally dark skin; 75% were refugees; and half had a Sudanese background. Seasonal variations also played a big role with the majority of cases identified in winter and the subsequent months.

Professor Peter Ebeling, Medical Director of Osteoporosis Australia and Head of Endocrinology, University of Melbourne at Western Hospital, said that individuals at risk or concerned about their vitamin D levels should visit their GP.

"Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, muscles and overall health. Levels can be checked via a simple blood test and treated with supplements where required," Professor Ebeling said.

SunSmart has a variety of practical resources including an information sheet on UV and vitamin D for people with naturally very dark skin in 12 different languages, as well as an online vitamin D tracker tool.

Updated: 16 May, 2012