New vitamin D guidelines for Tasmanians released

New guidelines released today will help Tasmanians combat their greater risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Director of Public Health Dr Roscoe Taylor said many Tasmanians failed to get enough vitamin D because they were exposed to less direct sunlight than other Australians, partly due to our cooler climate.

“Around one third of Tasmanian teens and adults are vitamin D deficient in summer and up to two thirds are deficient in winter and spring,” Dr Taylor said.

Vitamin D is needed for healthy bones and muscles.

Safe exposure to direct sunlight, taking into account the UV Index (how strong the sun is) and people’s skin type, can help Tasmanians get enough vitamin D.

Dr Taylor said until now there had been a lack of clear guidance for the public and health professionals for the prevention and management of vitamin D deficiency in Tasmania.

“Developing public health messages for vitamin D was complicated by the continuing need to avoid sunburn, defining what is enough vitamin D and variables such as skin type, time of year and lifestyle practices.”

To overcome these challenges Dr Taylor set up a broad-based Vitamin D Scientific Advisory Group to develop evidence-based public health recommendations.

The group included experts in vitamin D from Menzies Research Institute, Cancer Council, Arthritis Tasmania, general practice, allied health professionals and people from refugee health from across Tasmania.

“I am very grateful to the group for developing a range of written guidelines to help prevent and manage vitamin D deficiency,” Dr Taylor said.

Menzies Research Institute Senior Research Fellow Dr Ingrid van der Mei said a key recommendation to health professionals is routine testing of vitamin D levels in all patients is unnecessary and undesirable because there is not enough evidence the benefits outweigh the cost.

“However, targeted testing is recommended for patients at risk of moderate to severe deficiency and supplements may be required for these patients,” Dr van der Mei said.

“People at risk of moderate to severe deficiency are those with naturally very dark skin, those with very little or no sun exposure, those who wear full coverage clothing, and babies of mothers with vitamin D deficiency.

“Testing is also recommended for people presenting with clinical problems potentially associated vitamin D deficiency, such as unexplained bone and muscle problems.”

Cancer Council Tasmania Director Cancer Control Dr Kathryn Terry welcomed the release of the new guidelines.

“We need to balance the need for vitamin D with safe exposure to the sun,” Dr Terry said.

“Tasmania experiences low UV levels throughout winter, which causes a drop in most people’s vitamin D levels.

“March is a good time to get sun, boost your vitamin D levels and buffer against this winter drop.

“This March Tasmanians should aim for sun exposure of 10 to 15 minutes once or twice a day, avoid sunburn and protect skin and eyes from the sun if the UV index is 3 or above and if they are outside for longer periods.”

Check the UV Index daily at www.cancertas.org.au, www.bom.gov.au/uv, in the weather section of the newspaper and as a free app for smart phones from www.sunsmart.com.au/resources/sunsmart-app

For more information visit: www.dhhs.tas.gov.au/vitamin_d

vitaminD

Dr Kathryn Terry (CCT) with Dr Roscoe Taylor (left) and head of Menzies Centre Prof Tom Marwick (right)