Vitamin D is an important factor in the development of healthy bones in children.Research suggests that inadequate levels of vitamin D in children can lead to rickets and complications including under developed bones which can have a serious impact on a child’s health later in life.
The study is being conducted by Professor Lesley Rhodes, from the University of Manchester, and her research team at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust. Backed by a £153,000 grant from the Bupa Foundation, the study involves children wearing a small badge on their coat or T-shirt for a week in each season to measure the amount of sunlight the child receives. For the same week, the children are also asked to complete a daily food diary as diet is also believed to have a small impact on vitamin D levels.
Speaking about the study, Professor Rhodes said: “Vitamin D is essential for children to grow up healthy and may protect against disease later in life. With this study we’re aiming to help re-evaluate the national guidelines for vitamin D to improve the health of children across the country.”
Georgia Abel, 13, from Davyhulme, is a pupil at Manchester High School for Girls and is taking part in the study. Georgia said: “Firstly, we had a meeting and were told what we had to do to help the study run smoothly.
“We were given a Sun Exposure Diary which we use as a log to record our sun exposure, for example if it was sunny outside we would write S in the area allocated. We would also use the log to note down when we were out in the sun and for how long and other important information. This was easy and they made sure we understood before we moved onto another piece of information we needed to know.
“As well as sun exposure, we recorded our daily diet. We had to say whether or not we had eaten foods that had fortified vitamin D or if we had eaten red meat, cheese, eggs, how much milk we had drunk, the total amount of fat we had eaten (for example, butter), supplements containing vitamin D and if we had eaten any fatty fish. After the diary was explained we moved on to talk about our badges that absorbed sunlight.
“This is another way to record how long we were outside for and we wear one of the badges from Monday to Friday and the second badge over the weekend. We used the badges and diary for the same week and handed it in after we had completed it.
“Soon after, we had our blood taken. The people who took our blood were smiling and comforting; they set a happy atmosphere and made sure we were all feeling okay and helped anyone who was especially nervous. They used a spray that numbed our arms and the whole experience was mainly painless. Being a part of the study, having the blood extraction, wearing the badges and completing the diary couldn’t have been easier.”
Professor Rhodes added: “During the study, children wear a small badge for one week each season to monitor the amount of sunlight they receive and at the end of each day they make a note of the food they have eaten. A week after they have worn the badge, we take a small sample of blood to see their vitamin D levels.
“We have now recruited the full number of 125 children required for the study, across six schools in Greater Manchester and it’s a simple study for them to be involved with and they seem to enjoy taking part.”
Professor Parveen Kumar, Chairman of the Bupa Foundation, said: “We have long believed that people in the UK do not get enough vitamin D from natural sunlight and that specific steps are needed so that we get more. This research will enhance our understanding of the situation with children. The more we know, the better able we will be to ensure that children get enough vitamin D which is vital for their healthy development. We are proud to support this important research.”
The study is expected to help researchers better understand the connection between sunlight and levels of vitamin D in the human body.
Written parental consent, in addition to that of the children taking part, was obtained prior to the commencement of the study.
The research is being supported by the Greater Manchester Comprehensive Local Research Network (GM CLRN) Paediatric Non-Medicines Research Theme and is funded by a £153,000 grant from the Bupa Foundation, an independent medical research charity that funds medical research to prevent, relieve and cure sickness and ill health.
Photo caption: Caitlin Rich, Erin Gallagher, Sarah Merry and Georgia Abel give their measuring badges a spell in the sun
The photo and article first appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Friday, 1 April, 2011. The photo is reproduced with their permission.