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MagazineMay 1990 (Vol. 1 Issue 2)Sunshine:

Our children are not getting enough sunlight

Our children are not getting enough sunlight. Parents, worried by the very effective campaigns about sunbathing and skin cancers, are keeping children away from the sun - and so depriving them of a vital health source.
The body synthesizes sunlight into vitamin D, which helps build strong bones, and the sun's rays reduce the risks of some cancers, and it's thought they can also protect against multiple sclerosis.
Some experts are so worried by sunlight starvation that they've asked skin cancer awareness groups to stop campaigning.
Fine, but if you're a parent trying to strike the right balance, how much is enough sunlight to be healthy without increasing the risk of skin cancer? There are several responses, but they amount to the same thing. Scientists reckon we need to expose our face, hands and arms two to three times a week to an extent where you can just see a slight reddening of the skin, technically known as a level of 1 MED (minimal erythema dose). Exposure should be increased to 2 MED a week if just the face and hands are getting the sun.
This is not very helpful if you're not at one with your MED measurements, and it's hardly practical to advise a child to look out for any slight reddening of the skin.
So this has been interpreted that being outdoors for five to 10 minutes three days a week during the summer months is sufficient for vitamin D production. This would be true if you're in direct sunlight, if the sun is strong, if there aren't clouds in the sky, and if there aren't any tall buildings around. Oh yes, and if you're lying flat on the ground.
If all these conditions aren't met, children who have been outside for several hours still haven't had sufficient direct sunlight to start vitamin D synthesis.
The key certainly seems to be about reddening skin. Perhaps, after all, you do need to hover around your children before slapping on the sun protection cream. But do this only after the skin starts to turn red. That's 1 MED to you.


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