New UK consensus on vitamin D – experts respond

Earlier today, UK health charities launched a consensus position paper on vitamin D covering issues of sun exposure, cancer risk and dietary supplementation, recommending some exposure to midday sun.

The paper also emphasised that evidence for additional health benefits for vitamin D beyond bone health (such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc) remain inconclusive, and that “optimal levels” of vitamin D have thus not yet been determined.

The health authorities behind the statement are the British Association of Dermatologists, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the National Heart Forum, the National Osteoporosis Society and the Primary Care Dermatology Society.

A copy of the position paper can be found here (PDF)

NB: The Ministry of Health is currently preparing a discussion document on potential changes to New Zealand’s existing public health recommendations for vitamin D, supplementation and sun exposure. The document is expected to be released early next year.

Dr Tony Reeder, Director – Cancer Society Social & Behavioural Research Unit, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago comments:

“A key difference between the UK and NZ is that during summer months NZ receives UV radiation levels as much as 40% higher than at equivalent latitudes during the northern hemisphere summer. This means that relatively greater care is required when out in the sun in NZ – something that not only New Zealanders but also visitors from overseas need to know. The “no one size fits all” message about UVR also applies to different geographical locations and means that Northern hemisphere sun exposure messages should be extended to the NZ context with caution.”

Dr Brian Cox, Associate Professor of Cancer Epidemiology and Specialist in Public Health Medicine, University of Otago comments:

“This is a very professional statement that provides clear information about the relative role of sun exposure in the production of vitamin D, so that common sense can prevail in the sometimes emotive discussion about potential harms from campaigns to prevent skin cancer. The statement is in line with the stated views of various authoritative bodies that have reviewed this issue recently. It will be a very useful document for the further development of skin cancer prevention campaigns and the role of vitamin D in disease in New Zealand.”

Professor Murray Skeaff, Human Nutrition Dept, University of Otago comments:

“The Consensus Vitamin D position paper reflects the views of a wide range of expert professional, research, and public health organizations in the United Kingdom. After careful evaluation of the scientific evidence, their conclusions about the role of vitamin D in cancer, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and other chronic diseases were very similar to those of the Institute of Medicine in the United States who reviewed, independently, the same evidence.

“The Consensus Position concluded there was insufficient evidence to warrant public health efforts – such as food fortification or widespread supplementation – to increase the vitamin D status of the UK population. The recommendations for intake of vitamin D continue to be based on how much is needed for good bone health. Vitamin D deficiency is defined as a serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level less than 25 nanomoles per litre. People who are at high risk of vitamin D deficiency because they get little sunlight exposure should take a vitamin D supplement up to 10 µg a day. It seems reasonable, at this time, that the same conclusions should apply in New Zealand.”

See also this recently updated infographic summarising background facts and research about vitamin D on the Information is Beautiful website.

To speak to these and other local experts on vitamin D and UV exposure, contact the Science Media Centre on (04) 499 5476 or