Warning over vitamins and sunlight

Campaigners are raising awareness of the importance of vitamin D amid fears that keeping children out of sunlight could affect their health.Norwich North MP Dr Ian Gibson and Dr Oliver Gillie from the Health Research Forum have urged ministers to take the issue of Vitamin D insufficiency seriously after growing concerns that children are being left at greater risk of an array of health problems because of a lack of the vitamin.

Campaigners are raising awareness of the importance of vitamin D amid fears that keeping children out of sunlight could affect their health.

Norwich North MP Dr Ian Gibson and Dr Oliver Gillie from the Health Research Forum have urged ministers to take the issue of Vitamin D insufficiency seriously after growing concerns that children are being left at greater risk of an array of health problems because of a lack of the vitamin.

Vitamin D is acquired naturally from exposure to sunlight.

But Dr Gillie said the problem of Vitamin D insufficiency has arisen in recent years because people are being urged to spend more time in the shade due to fears of skin cancer.

He said: “Evidence is piling up to show that insufficient D is a major risk in cancer, hypertension, diabetes and now heart disease.

“Insufficient D as a baby or in childhood is a risk factor for Type 1 diabetes and almost certainly for multiple sclerosis. It is also a factor later in life in diabetes type 2, arthritis and other chronic diseases.”

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In recent years the government has recognised the problem and reintroduced vitamin drops containing D for babies but Dr Gillie says they are not as widely available as they could be. They are free to mothers on benefits for their babies and some PCTS are not making the supplements available, he added.

However, Norfolk PCT stresses that vitamin D supplements are offered at health clinics in the county to those who need them.

Dr Gillie and Dr Gibson have made representations to health minister Caroline Flint to help raise awareness of the availability and importance of Vitamin D.

Cancer specialist Dr Gibson said: “We have been raising the issue through debates and with the ministers and it is an issue that needs to be taken seriously. Vitamin D is something that is associated with improving health and when people get exposed to sunlight the body makes it naturally.

“If you do not get enough sunlight you need supplements. What we are saying is that everybody needs sunlight.”

Cancer Research UK has a SunSmart campaign, which now places the emphasis on enjoying the sun safely rather than staying out of the sun but avoiding getting burned.

Dr Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, said: “You can do this by seeking shade when the sun is hottest between 11am and 3pm, and covering up with a T-shirt, hat, and sunglasses. Finally, use factor 15 plus sunscreen.”

The Department of Health recommends that pregnant and lactating women and children under five take dietary supplements of vitamin D as a precautionary measure.

Earlier this year, Healthy Start vitamins for women became available for the first time in over eight years. They contain vitamins C, D and folic acid.