AFTER decades of being told to stay covered up in the sun, a group of Australian scientists fear up to 50% of women aged between 16-25 years may be putting themselves at risk of chronic illness and disease because of their lack of sun exposure.
A new Victorian study aims to recruit more than 450 females aged between 16-25 years to find out how much sun is needed to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D naturally without exposing them to the dangers of excess ultra-violet rays.
Clinicians and medical researchers from The Royal Melbourne Hospital and the University of Melbourne today launched the Southern Hemisphere's largest vitamin D study for young women - Safe-D.
They hope the results will help produce better education policies and strategies to safely improve vitamin D status and wellbeing of young Australian women.
Professor John Wark, who works at both organisations, said vitamin D was an essential nutrient for everyone, young and old.
"Vitamin D is necessary for strong bones, muscles and overall health. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the best natural source of vitamin D, but it is also the main risk factor for skin cancer and premature ageing of the skin," he said.
"A balanced approach to sunlight exposure can help you avoid vitamin D deficiency, which has been linked to many chronic health conditions such as poor bone and muscle health, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and adverse mental health conditions to name only a few.
"In Australia, musculoskeletal disorders cause more disability than any other group of medical conditions, costing the economy $9.15 billion a year.
"This is why we are focusing on young women in the hope that we can intervene early, preventing potential ill-health, economic loss and premature death."
Mr Wark said it was currently recommended that Australians with moderately fair skin expose their arms for 6 to 7 minutes mid morning or mid afternoon during summer/spring or up to 30 minutes during winter outdoors to maintain adequate vitamin D level.