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Increased risk of vitamin D deficiency this winter

Tuesday 7 June, 2011

As Victorians prepare for the colder months, SunSmart is reminding health professionals that certain population groups face an increased risk of low or deficient vitamin D levels.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer but also the best natural source of vitamin D, essential for strong bones and overall health.

Population groups at-risk of low or deficient vitamin D include people with naturally very dark skin, babies and infants of vitamin D deficient mothers (especially breastfed babies), people with little or no sun exposure such as those who cover their skin for religious or cultural reasons, older Victorians and people who are housebound or in institutional care.

To help improve vitamin D awareness and outline testing and treatment options, the Department of Health has released the updated Low vitamin D in Victoria: Key health messages for doctors, nurses and allied health resource, which has been designed specifically for Victorian health professionals.

The resources have been developed in partnership between the Victorian Department of Health, SunSmart, the University of Melbourne, General Practice Victoria, Royal Children's Hospital and other partners.

Dr John Carnie, Chief Health Officer, said: "Vitamin D is needed for the development and maintenance of healthy bones and muscles and is also important for general health. The new resources outline population groups at-risk of low or deficient vitamin D, sun exposure recommendations and vitamin D testing and treatment options.

"They provide support to the important work being undertaken by our Victorian health and community professionals," he said.

SunSmart Manager, Sue Heward, said "Low vitamin D is an important public health issue in Victoria during the autumn and winter months. To help maintain vitamin D levels, sun protection is not required between May and August, unless the UV Index level reaches three and above or people are outside for extended periods, in alpine regions or near highly reflective surfaces such as snow."

"Most people with fair to olive skin should aim for two to three hours of sun exposure to face, arms and hands or equivalent area of skin spread across the week from May until August in Victoria. Population groups at risk of low vitamin D, such as people with naturally very dark skin, need approximately three to six times this recommended exposure level."

To download the new resources and for more information on vitamin D, skin cancer, UV and sun exposure recommendations, go to or call (03) 9635 5148.

For information on high dose vitamin D supplementation in Victoria, go to