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Grow & Thrive - Vitamin D

  • Volume 3, No 4 - Vitamin D. November 2014

    As we move into the summer months there is an increased emphasis on sun protection for any outdoor time. Skin cancer rates in Australia are very high and protecting skin from the sun is essential to reduce damage in later life.

    Striking a balance: vitamin D

    As we move into the summer months there is an increased emphasis on sun protection for any outdoor time. Skin cancer rates in Australia are very high and protecting skin from the sun is essential to reduce damage in later life.

    Kids also need vitamin D from the sun for strong and healthy bones and muscles. In our bodies, vitamin D helps us to make use of the calcium that we eat. 

    We make vitamin D in our bodies in response to skin exposure to the sun's UV rays – more than 80% of our vitamin D needs come from the sun and the rest from foods such as fortified dairy products, eggs and oily fish. When babies are in the womb, they rely on their mothers to get enough vitamin D for both of them. If women don't get enough vitamin D while they're pregnant it can lead to neonatal hypocalcaemia for the baby (not enough calcium in the blood) or rickets later in childhood.

    A severe lack of vitamin D can lead to serious developmental problems in children, including delayed motor development, muscle weakness, aches and pains, fractures and rickets. Symptoms of rickets include bowed legs, deformed chest, dental problems, muscle loss, increased risk of fractures and skull deformities. 

    Your location in Australia and the time of year has a big effect on the levels of vitamin D you can get from sun exposure – Darwin and Hobart are very different climates! It's always important to be careful in the sun no matter what your location or the time of year. Between 10am and 4pm, if children are outdoors they should always wear a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and clothing that keeps the sun off and have access to plenty of shade and water. 

    How much sun?

    This handy map from the Cancer Council of Australia can give you an at-a-glance guide to how much time you should need outdoors without sun protection to get sufficient vitamin D, without risking sun damage:

    Cancer Council sun map

    Image courtesy of Cancer Council Australia, www.cancer.org.au

    There are some groups in our community who have a greater risk of being vitamin D deficient:

    • Darker-skinned people. The pigmentation in dark skin reduces the amount of UV that can be absorbed from the sun. Kids with very dark skin can need up to six times more sun exposure to make the same amount of vitamin D as fair-skinned kids.
    • People who cover a lot of their skin, because this reduces the amount of skin that is exposed to sunlight. The more skin that is exposed to the sunlight, the more vitamin D your body can make.

    If you're concerned about the vitamin D levels of any children in your early childhood setting or school, it's important to encourage their parents to talk to their GP about getting tested and possible supplementation. 

    Learn more

    Keeping an eye on the UV forecast in your area each day is a good idea – the  Bureau of Meteorology makes that information available every day for different parts of Australia.

    SunSmart has a great  Vitamin D Tracker on their website – also available as an app for smartphones and tablets – that can be used as a simple way to track how much sun exposure is needed in your area for your skin type.

    This  video from the Cancer Council also provides a good overall summary of Vitamin D, and tips to help ensure that kids are getting the sunshine they need – all year round – for healthy bones and muscles.

    The Cancer Council has developed a widget that will let you track UV in your state or territory at a glance. The  code for the widget can be embedded easily on your school or setting website. 

    You can also read more about vitamin D and kids on the  Raising Children Network.

    Vitamin D for strong bones and muscles

    It's very important for young children and babies to be protected from the harsh rays of the sun, but it's also very important for all of us to get enough sun exposure so that we can have healthy bones and muscles. 

    Sunlight lets our bodies make vitamin D, which helps us to make use of the calcium we eat. Without enough vitamin D, kids are at risk of serious developmental problems. 

    Knowing how much sun, what time of the day is safest to get sun exposure and how much skin to expose to the sun can be complicated. This handy map from the Cancer Council of Australia can give you an at-a-glance guide to how much time you should need outdoors each day – no matter where you are in Australia – to get sufficient vitamin D, without putting skin at risk of sun damage.

    Cancer Council sun map

    Image courtesy of Cancer Council Australia, www.cancer.org.au

    There are some groups in our community who have a greater risk of being vitamin D deficient:

    • Darker-skinned people. The pigmentation in dark skin reduces the amount of UV that can be absorbed from the sun. Kids with very dark skin can need up to six times more sun exposure to make the same amount of vitamin D as fair-skinned kids.
    • People who cover a lot of their skin, because this reduces the amount of skin that is exposed to sunlight. The more skin that is exposed to the sunlight, the more vitamin D your body can make.

        If you're concerned about the vitamin D levels of any children at your setting, it's important to encourage their parents to talk to their GP about getting tested. If vitamin D levels are just a little low, it can be a matter of a getting bit more outdoor time. If deficiency is severe, there may be a need for supplements. 

        Learn more

        Keeping an eye on the UV forecast in your area each day is a good idea – the  Bureau of Meteorology makes that information available every day for different parts of Australia. 

        SunSmart has lots of information about  vitamin D for early childhood settings and a great  Vitamin D Tracker on their website – also available as an app for smartphones and tablets. The tracker can be used as a simple way to track how much sun exposure is needed in your area for your skin type.    

        This  video from the Cancer Council also provides a good overall summary of Vitamin D, and tips to help ensure that kids are getting the sunshine they need – all year round – for healthy bones and muscles.

        The Cancer Council has developed a widget that will let you track UV in your state or territory at a glance. The  code for the widget can be embedded easily on your school or setting website. 

        You can also read more about vitamin D and kids on the  Raising Children Network.

        Letting the sunshine in: vitamin D

        Protecting skin from the sun is essential to reduce damage in later life, but some sun exposure is also essential in order to have healthy bones and muscles.

        Sunlight lets our bodies make vitamin D, which helps us to make use of the calcium we eat – calcium is essential for growing bodies. Without enough vitamin D, kids are at risk of serious developmental problems.

        Knowing how much sun, what time of day is safest to get sun exposure and how much skin to expose to the sun can be complicated. This handy map from the Cancer Council of Australia can give you an at-a-glance guide to how much time outdoor time without sun protection – no matter where you are in Australia – is required to get sufficient vitamin D, without putting skin at risk of sun damage. 

        Cancer Council sun map

        Image courtesy of Cancer Council Australia, www.cancer.org.au

        There are some groups in our community who have a greater risk of being vitamin D deficient:
        • Darker-skinned people. The pigmentation in dark skin reduces the amount of UV that can be absorbed from the sun. Kids with very dark skin can need up to six times more sun exposure to make the same amount of vitamin D as fair-skinned kids.
        • People who cover a lot of their skin, because this reduces the amount of skin that is exposed to sunlight. The more skin that is exposed to the sunlight, the more vitamin D your body can make.

            If you’re concerned about the vitamin D levels of any children at your school, you can encourage their parents to talk to their GP about getting tested. At school, making time for outdoor time – when the weather permits – is a great way to support children’s vitamin D levels.

            Learn more

            Keeping an eye on the UV forecast in your area each day is a good idea – the  Bureau of Meteorology makes that information available every day for different parts of Australia. 

            SunSmart has lots of information about  vitamin D for schools and a great  Vitamin D Tracker on their website – also available as an app for smartphones and tablets. The tracker can be used as a simple way to track how much sun exposure is needed in your area for your skin type.    
            This  video from the Cancer Council also provides a good overall summary of Vitamin D, and tips to help ensure that kids are getting the sunshine they need – all year round – for healthy bones and muscles.

            The Cancer Council has developed a widget that will let you track UV in your state or territory at a glance. The  code for the widget can be embedded easily on your school or setting website. 

            You can also read more about vitamin D and kids on the  Raising Children Network.

            Follow the links below for Grow & Thrive information for families on vitamin D. You can also download, print and share this information.   

            0-5 year old children       Download fact sheet

            5-8 year old children       Download fact sheet

           

          Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

          The Centre for Community Child Health is a department of The Royal Children’s Hospital and a research group of Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.