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IHMRI researchers working on a multi-country study to uncover Vitamin D deficiency

Researchers from the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute are recruiting participants to be part of a landmark study into vitamin D deficiency.

The study is part of Rebecca Vearing’s PhD project, which looks at vitamin D levels in women around the world, including participants in the UK and Brazil.

 “We are trying to figure out what determines vitamin D status. We’re looking at skin type, latitude, diet, sun exposure and lifestyle factors. Our main source of vitamin D comes from the sun, so factors like where you live in the world, as well as sun avoidance because of fear of skin cancer or even religious dress plays a part,” Ms Vearing explained.

“If we take all of these things into consideration we can think about what recommendations to give people to help with their vitamin D status, and what strategies will work for people in each country and for each skin type.” 

Vitamin D deficiency is considered a global public health issue. The vitamin aids in calcium absorption to promote healthy bones. Low vitamin D can lead to musculoskeletal conditions like osteoporosis, especially for women who have gone through menopause.

Ms Vearing will examine levels through blood tests, bone density scans, muscle strength tests and a food diary, as well as a device that measures sun exposure.

The Wollongong-based project is identical to a study she completed at the University of Surrey in January, which focused on the African-Carribean population of the UK.

“In the UK, there is little sunlight year-round. If you have darker skin, it takes longer to absorb the same amount of vitamin D compared to a person with lighter skin. This means people with dark skin in the UK are at a higher risk of deficiency, and therefore poor bone health.

“Despite this, they are the only population group in the UK that hadn’t been looked at,” Ms Vearing said.

She explained that the level of Vitamin D deficiency in Australia is higher than people may expect.

“A lot of people don’t realise we have a vitamin D problem in Australia, but in fact, around one in four people in Australia have a deficiency. This may be because of our fear of skin cancer and therefore sun avoidance. We need to get the balance right between exposure to the sun for good vitamin D status, but avoid risk of skin cancer,” she said.

She also explained that the transition from outdoor work has led to lower levels of vitamin D overall.

“There is a link with indoor work because the vitamin D from the sun can’t travel through windows. So even if you sit in a sunny office, you’re not getting any vitamin D.”

Ms Vearing is seeking women aged 18 or older, who are not taking vitamin D supplements or multivitamins containing vitamin D. Participants have to have lived in the Illawarra for at least the past two months, and not be going through menopause.

Register your interest

Media contact

Lizzie Jack

Media and Content Coordinator

t: 4221 5432

e: ejack@uow.edu.au

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