As kids, we slathered on the coconut oil and baked to get our summer tans. People are now much more aware of the dangers of sun exposure. But have we gone too far in the other direction? According to the SCMP at least 60% of people in sunny Hong Kong lack vitamin D. Are we just not getting out enough or have we succumbed to the opposite extreme of totally avoiding the sun? Following are a few considerations:
How much do we need and when?
What does the body use vitamin D for?
The effects of vitamin D deficiency on kids
We'll suggest some local activities get your rays
Vitamin D requirements
The Life Clinic in Hong Kong has the following advice:
Unfortunately this does not come as a surprise to me when in the clients I see around 80% of them are deficient in Vitamin D and we live in the sub-tropical zone of Hong Kong! Essentially all we need is 20-30 minutes of direct exposure between 12-2pm on around 80% of our exposed body.
Of course, the darker skinned you are the more you need and the lighter skinned you are the less you need. Failing this, a good supplement of vitamin D in the form of Vitamin D3 would be appropriate ensuring adequate vitamin A is in balance with Vitamin D. Cod Liver Oils provide this ideal balance between the two vitamins.
What does the body use vitamin D for?
Annie Kung Wai-chee, the Sir David Todd Professor of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said it was hard to believe that people from a city in the subtropics could suffer from a deficiency of the vitamin.
Vitamin D strengthens muscles and bones, regulates the function of different organs and helps fend off osteoporosis and bone fractures, Dr. Kung said.
The nutrient was absorbed primarily through exposure to sunlight rather than diet.
'If you look at the studies on vitamin D in different populations in the Far East and even in sunny spaces, the problem of vitamin D insufficiency exists,' she said.
New data suggested that vitamin D may even boost the immune system and decrease the risk of infectious diseases and illnesses, including certain cancers, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes, she added.
We are all aware of the dangers of too much sun, especially for children. But has the safe sun message inadvertently created vitamin D deficiencies, resulting in a resurgence in rickets?
Orthopedic expert Dr. Joe Reed - who is based at Southampton Hospital, says the Department of Health needs to do more to make parents and doctors more aware of the dangers of not enough sun.
“Alarmingly, our figures suggest that up to 40% of children presenting to the orthopedic out-patient service in Southampton have vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency” Dr. Joesph M Reed
Rickets - childhood vitamin D deficiency resulting in skeletal pains or bony deformities - was, until recently, thought to be a thing of the past in our developed society and historically associated with poverty-stricken communities or fictional characters such as Tiny Tim from Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble compound essential for bone growth and mineralization during childhood.
We live in a sunny paradise...most of the time (truth: it is actually a torrential downpour as I write this). Since sun exposure needs to be less than 100% percentage of your body, you can still afford to wear sunscreen on the obvious places that face harmful repeat burning, like shoulders and of course your face for vanity sake. Following are some easy ways to get your rays:
1. Get outside at lunch
Since this is the prime time for getting sun kissed, make use of Hong Kong's parks and greenery. For all of our high rises and lack of ability to walk on the lawns, pretty much every corner of the city has some sort of tucked away green space to go for a walk or enjoy your lunch al fresco.
2. Get a dog
Yes, man's best friend is one of the best motivators to get yourself outside. The 20-30min you need to be outside is pretty much the time it takes for them to heed the call of nature.
3. Visit a beach
Hong Kong is blessed with beaches. We are literally surrounded by them. Some are gorgeous and feel like Hawaii in our own back yard, like Tai Long Wan, others more humble. However, getting out and being near the water gives you an energy boost, as well as your dose of D.
4. Basketball match with friends and old buddies
Since when was the last time you were giving your good old college friend a slam dunk in the face, just sweating off each other's fancy layups? There are almost two to three basketball courts in every region in Hong Kong (except you are in the middle of the Victoria Harbour), there is a good chance you will find a nice basketball set for you and your buddies to get sweaty while taking that D.
Hong Kong is a coastal city with water surrounding the most part of the city. As such, the Hong Kong government encourages watersports and activities. From kayaking to swimming, and from snorkeling to speedboating. Your energy is the only limitation.