Confusion about role of vitamin D

02:30, Nov 18 2010

A survey of more than 9,000 mothers and health professionals about vitamin D has exposed confusion and gaps in knowledge about the role it plays in children's wellbeing.

Study authors Dr Cath Conlon and Dr Pamela von Hurst, from the Vitamin D Research centre at Massey's Albany campus, said the online survey of mothers revealed around 90 per cent of respondents knew vitamin D came from the sun and was needed for bone development.

But Dr Conlon said mothers were confused by the prominence of the "slip, slop, slap" skin cancer message and how to balance that with the body's natural requirements.

The survey showed over 70 per cent of mothers thought the skin cancer messages made it difficult to understand messages about vitamin D.

"The overwhelming thing that came out is that they want nice, clear messages that are easy to understand. They are very confused and they just don't know what to do about sun exposure."

A deficiency in vitamin D is associated with osteoporosis, some cancers, diabetes and multiple sclerosis among other illnesses.

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A re-emergence of childhood rickets in New Zealand has heightened concern about vitamin D deficiency.

A parallel survey of health professionals, including GPs, midwives, nurses, Plunket nurses and dieticians, showed a high level of awareness of vitamin D's importance, but uncertainty on what to advise patients.

"They lack the confidence to give advice because I don't think that the guidelines are necessarily that clear.

"They know all the right answers, but I don't know if they are volunteering that advice because they realise it is not an easy topic," Dr Conlon said.

She said the survey highlighted the need for clearer guidelines from the Ministry of Health.

The preliminary results of the survey are released at a one-day symposium on vitamin D in Auckland on Thursday.

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