Balancing sun exposure and Vitamin D in children
Did you know that small amounts of sun are healthy and needed for Vitamin D production in children?
With most parents concerned about limiting the sun exposure of their children, which is smart given Australia’s high rates of skin cancer
, helping your child receive healthy sun exposure without causing lasting skin damage can be tricky.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D plays an important role in our health. According to Sun Smart, Vitamin D
is a hormone that controls calcium levels in the blood and is needed for strong bones, muscles and overall health.
The best source
of Vitamin D is the sun. It’s produced when unprotected skin receives exposure to sunlight, and depending on where you live, the time of day and your skin colour, it can take anywhere between five minutes and three hours
of sun exposure to get Vitamin D production started in our bodies.
To find out more about why we need Vitamin D and how much sun exposure is enough, we spoke to AMAQ spokesman Dr Matt Young.
“Vitamin D is really important for bone development and neurological development,’ Dr Young said.
“It’s produced in the body when our skin is exposed to the sun but unfortunately our bodies cannot synthesize it any other way, and it’s only found in very small amounts in food.
“This means sun exposure is needed, but parents have to be quite careful as at certain times of year anywhere in Australia, children’s skin can start to burn very quickly.”
How much sun is enough?
With variations in skin colour, choice of clothing and different climates it’s impossible to offer one-size-fits-all advice on the right amount of sun exposure, so Dr Young suggests parents take a sensible approach and ensure any sun exposure is gentle.
“As a general rule, about 30 minutes of gentle sun per day is enough for Vitamin D production. And when I say gentle sun, I mean before 10am and after 3pm.
“You don’t need much and the further north you live in Australia, the quicker you’ll get your dose.
“If you’re concerned about getting the right amount of sun, ask your doctor. They will know what’s best for your skin type and the climate of your area.”
Dr Young urges parents to exercise caution with sun exposure, because children’s skin is more vulnerable to the sort of damage that can lead to skin cancers later in life.
“There’s evidence that sunburns during childhood increases the risk of developing skin cancers. The natural defence our skin has against sunburn is a pigment in the skin call melanin which in childhood isn’t fully developed.
“For parents who are concerned about their children getting the right amount of healthy sun, they really need to remember that it needs to be gentle sun and we don’t need much.”
The Cancer Council recommends sun protection for any time UV levels are over three, which in northern parts of Australia occurs all year and in southern parts from spring to autumn. This table
on the Cancer Council’s website gives a monthly guide for capital cities, while for a daily UV forecast for your area you can download the SunSmart App
which will tell you the hours of the day you need to use sun protection.
How do we ensure sun safety in Goodstart centres?
We recognise the need for a healthy balance of sun exposure in children, while ensuring children are protected from harmful UV rays.
In all of our centres nationwide, we implement sun safety procedures which are tailored to suit the local climate. These procedures include things like:
- Documenting the sun protection times on playground checklists
- Setting up outdoor play areas to take advantage of daily shade patterns
- Taking sun protection measures before engaging in any outdoor play on any day with a UV level of three or above
- Monitoring children and guiding them to shade or indoors if they are not wearing or are removing protective clothing
- Not exposing babies under 12 months to direct sun when the UV level is three or above, and only small amounts of sun when the UV level is lower
- Being aware of the signs of heat stress and heat-related illness
- Encouraging regular drinking of water
- Taking an individual approach to sun safety and encouraging parents to supply their own sunscreen for children with known skin allergies
Learning experiences about sun safety awareness are also built into our educational programs, to ensure the best possible outcomes for children and families.