Vitamin D deficiency is common in our 'sunny country'
By Corinne Cox (Advanced Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Meals on Wheels NSW)

Most of us have heard that we should spend some time in the sun to “get some vitamin D” but what does this actually mean? How do we get Vitamin D from the sun, and why do we need it?

What does Vitamin D do for health?Vitamin D is best known for its role in building healthy bones and teeth, because it helps your body to absorb calcium. Vitamin D contributes to muscle strength and a deficiency can impact on bone health and can lead to osteoporosis.  Recent research suggests that vitamin D may also have benefits in supporting the immune system, helping maintain healthy skin and muscle strength.

Doesn’t the sun help us get Vitamin D?
Yes. Our skin can make vitamin D when we spend time in the sun – but we need to spend at least 5 minutes with some skin exposed to the sun on most days for this to occur. In the winter months it should be longer e.g. 15 minutes as the UV index is generally lower. Clothing and sunscreen stop the sun from being able to do its work, so wear short sleeves, roll up your trousers and avoid sunscreen for this short time each day. Getting enough time in the sun is as simple as walking from your office to get lunch, hanging clothes on the line, or chatting to a neighbour outdoors for a few minutes. To avoid getting sunburnt make sure that you avoid the sun in the middle of the day when the sun is hottest.

Who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
People who spend a lot of time indoors or are confined to chairs or bed such as the frail aged may be at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. Studies have found that nearly one-third of adults in Australia have vitamin D deficiency, and this rate is higher at the end of winter, and in southern parts of Australia.

Can I get Vitamin D from food?
Vitamin D is only found in a few foods – it occurs naturally in eggs (the yolk part) and oily fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna. In Australia margarine has added Vitamin D, but generally we don’t get enough vitamin D from our diet alone.
If you are concerned about your vitamin D status, speak to a health care professional such as your GP or dietitian.

This article is based on the following resources:
< >Nowson CA, McGrath JJ, Ebeling PR, et al. Vitamin D and health in adults in Australia and New Zealand: a position statement. Med J Aust 2012;196:1-7 (accessed 4/2/18) (accessed 4/2/18)Daly RM, Gagnon C, Lu ZX, et al. Prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and its determinants in Australian adults aged 25 years and older: a national, population-based study. Clin Endocrinol 2012;77:26-35.