Vitamin D deficiency: call for Manchester schools to help research
Action Medical Research has awarded £150,291 for an 18 month Manchester based research project. The research could lead to new public health messages specifically for children with darker skin about sun exposure, hopefully leading to the ultimate goal of preventing vitamin D deficiency.
Professor Lesley Rhodes at the University of Manchester, who is also Honorary Consultant Dermatologist and Director of the Photobiology Unit at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, is investigating the influence of lifestyle factors such as sun exposure on vitamin D levels in children from South Asian ethnic groups in the UK. Evidence suggests that these children may be at risk of poor bone health because of vitamin D deficiency.1,2
Around 125 children of South Asian descent, aged 12-15 and living in Greater Manchester will be taking part in Professor Rhodes study which is due to start after the summer, due to the seasonal requirements of the research.
The researchers are calling on Greater Manchester schools to get in touch if they are interested in getting involved. “We are entirely reliant on the goodwill of, and interest from, schools in the area in order to undertake this important work," says Professor Rhodes. "Please do get in touch with the team at the Photobiology Unit at Salford Royal on 0161 206 1150 or 0161 206 3143.”
Vitamin D deficiency: should advice on sun exposure take skin colour into account?
Although we get some vitamin D from food, our skin produces the majority of our vitamin D when we are outside in the sunlight. Reports suggest there is a resurgence of vitamin D deficiency in the UK and that children from South Asian ethnic groups are particularly vulnerable.
“We are monitoring the children for one to two-week periods, once during each season of the year," explains lead researcher Professor Rhodes. "The children wear special badges that measure sun exposure. They will keep diaries of how much time they spend indoors and outdoors, what they are doing, what they are wearing, what sunscreen they use and what food they eat. We are also assessing the children’s vitamin D levels. "The team is also measuring the strength of the sun during each one to two-week period.”
Public health campaigns in the UK encourage us to limit our summer sunlight exposure, by staying in the shade, wearing protective clothing and using sunscreen, to help protect against skin cancer. However, the darker someone’s skin is, the more sun they need to produce enough vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency during childhood can have lifelong consequences. "Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, especially during the growth spurt that occurs during adolescence," explains Professor Rhodes, advisor to the UK’s SunSmart campaign. "Prolonged vitamin D deficiency causes bones to be weak, making children prone to fractures. In severe cases it causes the bone deformity seen in rickets. There is also evidence to suggest that vitamin D might protect against some cancers, multiple sclerosis and diabetes."
Helping fund vital research
None of the vital work of the children’s charity Action Medical Research would be possible without the generosity of people who make donations, raise funds and take part in events, as well as our trust and corporate partners.
Dr Caroline Johnston, Research Evaluation Manager, said: “At Action Medical Research we are determined to stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability. We know that medical research can save and change children’s lives. The charity finds and funds some of the best medical research in the world for the benefit of babies, children and young people.
“Our gold standard scientific review process ensures that we only fund the best doctors and researchers in children’s hospitals, specialist units and universities across the UK.”
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1. Das G et al. Hypovitaminosis D among healthy adolescent girls attending an inner city school. Arch Dis Child 2006; 91: 569-72.
2. Wharton B et al. Rickets. Lancet 2003; 362: 1389-400.
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Action Medical Research - the leading UK-wide medical research charity dedicated to helping babies and children - is celebrating 60 years of vital research in 2012. We’ve been funding medical breakthroughs since we began in 1952 and have spent more than £100 million on research that has helped save thousands of children’s lives and changed many more. Today, we continue to find and fund the very best medical research to help stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability. We want to make a difference in:
- tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
- helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
- targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children
But there is still so much more to do. Make 2012 a special year and help fund more life-changing research for some of the UK’s sickest babies and children.