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April 2014

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PhD student Emma Callegari and Royal Melbourne Hospital bone and mineral unit head Professor John Wark.

Study investigates safe sun times

Clinicians and medical researchers from the Royal Melbourne Hospital and University of Melbourne have launched the southern hemisphere’s largest vitamin D study for young women.

The Safe-D study responds to the fact that up to 50 per cent of women aged between 16 and 25 may be putting themselves at risk of chronic illness and disease because of their lack of sun exposure.

It aims to recruit more than 450 females between 16–25 to find out how much sun is needed to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D naturally without exposing them to the dangers of excess ultra-violet rays.

Professor of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Melbourne and head of bone and mineral medicine at the Royal Melbourne John Wark said vitamin D was an essential nutrient for everyone, young and old.

‘Vitamin D is necessary for strong bones, muscles and overall health,’ Professor Wark said.

‘Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the best natural source of vitamin D but it is also the main risk factor for skin cancer and premature ageing of the skin.

‘A balanced approach to sunlight exposure can help you avoid vitamin D deficiency, which has been linked to many chronic health conditions such as poor bone and muscle health, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and mental health conditions to name only a few.

‘In Australia, musculoskeletal disorders cause more disability than any other group of medical conditions, costing the economy $9.15 billion a year,’ Professor Wark said.

‘By focusing on young women, we hope that we can intervene early and prevent potential ill-health, economic loss and premature death.’

It is hoped the research findings will lead to the production of better education policies and strategies to safely improve vitamin D status and wellbeing of young Australian women.

The Safe-D study has been mainly funded by a research grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

The study is being conducted by a team of researchers and health professionals from various institutions including the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the University of Melbourne, the Royal Women’s Hospital and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

Professor Wark said it was currently recommended that Australians with moderately fair skin expose their arms for six or seven minutes outdoors mid-morning or mid-afternoon during spring and summer and up to 30 minutes during winter to maintain adequate vitamin D level.

‘It’s about a little bit of safe sun exposure each day.

‘This will help you have healthy bones, a healthy mind and a healthy body for a long and happy life,’ Professor Wark added.

•             For more information visit http://www.safedstudy.org.