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Low Vitamin D in U.S. Children linked to FDA’s Foot-Dragging on Sunscreen Standards

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, August 3, 2009

WASHINGTON, -- Researchers from a major medical center in New York have reported that 7 out of 10 U.S. children have low levels of vitamin D, placing them at higher risk for bone disorders, heart disease, and other health problems (Kumar 2009).

Children’s major source of vitamin D is sunshine. The UV rays from the sun trigger the skin to make the vitamin. Smaller amounts are found in cod liver oil, vitamin-D-fortified milk, orange juice, and other foods. Vitamin D can also be found in supplements.

The researchers analyzed vitamin D levels in over 6,000 children who participated in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2001-2004. They found that children at highest risk for vitamin D deficiency include those who are obese or who spend more than 4 hours daily in front of the TV, computer or video game system.

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) failure to establish workable sunscreen standards are a contributing factor to children’s vitamin D deficiencies and resulting health risks. FDA has not yet finalized sunscreen standards it drafted in 1978 [read more]. Currently, the agency:

  • Advises children to stay out of the sun from 10 am to 4 pm.
  • Allows sunscreens that block only UVB rays (indicated by the SPF rating), the form of sunlight the body uses to manufacture vitamin D.
  • Has failed to finalize UVA standards for sunscreen, the form of sunlight strongly linked to skin cancer.

In contrast, standards in the EU, Japan and Australia require that sunscreens protect the skin from damaging UVA rays.  And in contrast to FDA’s blanket advice to stay out of the sun and always use sunscreen, the American Medical Association recommends 10 minutes of sun exposure before applying sunscreen, to give skin time to make vitamin D (AMA 2008).

Insufficient amounts of vitamin D are believed to play a role in the development of heart disease, some immune disorders, diabetes, and even the flu, while excess UVA exposures contribute to skin cancer and skin aging.

"FDA’s foot dragging over permanent sunscreen safety standards puts the health of the country’s children in jeopardy," said Jane Houlihan, Senior Vice President for Research at Environmental Working Group (EWG). "Their continued failure to finalize meaningful sunscreen standards – and set policies that account for what’s known about the risks and benefits of sunshine – are putting children at risk and contributing to rising rates of skin cancer."

References

AMA (American Medical Association). 2008. American Medical Association Complete Guide to Prevention and Wellness. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ.

Kumar J, Muntner P, Kaskel FJ, Hailpern SM, Melamed ML. 2009. Prevalence and associations of 25-Hydroxyvitamin D deficiency in US children: NHANES 2001-2004. Pediatrics. 124 (3).

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org

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