The fine balance of sun exposure and Vitamin D in kids. What's best?

Vitamin D is important for the maintenance of strong healthy bones.  It helps calcium absorption and plays an important role in children’s immune system, nervous system, heart and kidney health.

The best source of vitamin D is through exposure to summer sunlight, which encourages vitamin D production in our skin.  Very few foods are a natural source of vitamin D.  Clothing and sun block can prevent enough sunlight from getting through, however getting too much sun increases the risk of sunburn and skin cancers.

So how do our kids get adequate sun exposure to maintain their vitamin D levels without putting them at increased risk of skin cancer?

This is such a complicated subject and one I discuss regularly throughout the year in my clinic in Melbourne. 

Even in sunny Australia, vitamin D deficiency is detected year-round from Brisbane to Hobart. In summer months, deficiency rates are as high as 30% in south-east Queensland.

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Here are some guidelines to consider:

IN SUMMER - A few minutes of sun exposure each day outside the hours of 10am- 3pm (peak UV time).

Your children should never expose their face to direct sunlight without sun protection since it is the most sun-exposed area of the body and is only 9% of body surface and thus provides little vitamin D.

IN WINTER – Try to get two to three hours of sun exposure per week in the southern parts of Australia. If you are in the northern part of Australia, the same recommendations for summer apply to winter.

To guarantee vitamin D sufficiency I also recommend your children take a vitamin D supplement during winter.  More information to follow on this closer to winter 2013.

Dr Craig Munns a paediatric endocrinologist conducting research at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, NSW, says the safest approach might well be to “Slip! Slop! Slap!” and take a vitamin D supplement."

References available upon request.