Q. How much vitamin D do children need – are we now covering them up from the sun too much? Sarah, Wiltshire
Parental fears over skin cancer combined with the temptations of computer and TV screens mean that more modern children are being kept indoors than ever before. No wonder, say some experts that far from getting too much sun exposure, we are all simply not getting enough. This means vitamin D deficiency diseases such as childhood rickets, are making a reappearance.
A report in the London Journal of Primary Care in 2010 specifically blamed indoor lifestyles and the use of high factor sun protection creams for a health issue unheard of a decade ago. Consultant paediatrician, Colin Michie, warns that the deficiency is ‘a totally avoidable condition, but is now a public health issue. It’s affecting middle-class children because they’re overprotecting with sunscreen and not going out as much’.
The solution is complex with Cancer Research UK. The charity says you don’t need to spend hours in the sun to feel the benefits of sunlight. John Major, Campaigns Officer for the British Association of Dermatologists also adds that: ‘developing good sun safety behaviour at a young age will assist with maintaining good practices in the future.
‘Protective clothing is the first port of call, with sun hats and long sleeves keeping skin out of the sun’s rays and use a good sunscreen with an SPF of 30 which should be reapplied every two hours. Keep them in the shade during the hot midday sun ideally from 11am to 3pm in the UK’.
Increasingly, experts suggest supplementation is the answer. ‘Ideally, children should get all the vitamin D they need by eating a healthy balanced diet and getting some summer sun, says Boots nutritionist Vicky Pennington. ‘However our northern location and a lack of sunshine means that many people in Britain don’t manufacture enough vitamin D over the winter months.’
Pennington recommends looking at your child’s diet: ‘vitamin D isn’t widely found in foods either, but oily fish, fortified cereals, fortified spreads and eggs are good sources. Consider taking a daily supplement of vitamin D if you rarely go outdoors or rarely expose your skin to sunlight’.
Supplements for children over 12 years and adults typically contain ten micrograms, or 200 per cent of the recommended daily allowance.