How many people know about vitamin D?

Ever wonder how many people know as much about vitamin D as you? Last summer, Professor Sandra Clips and colleagues from John Hopkins University wanted to know this, too, and published some interesting results.

In 2007, they sent out a questionnaire to a group of people who lived in Washington County, Maryland (a semi-rural county) in 1989 and have been followed ever since. From this questionnaire the researchers sent out, they got a total of 8,027 valid responses.

Vitamin D and sunshine go hand in handHere is what they found:

30% were aware that unprotected sun exposure increased vitamin D levels.
Women were a little more aware of this interaction than men (32% vs. 28%).
Education was a significant factor. Awareness increased from 23% to 25% to 38% among those who had <12, 12 and >12 years of education, respectively.
42% of people who took vitamin D supplements were aware of the vitamin D-sun exposure interaction compared to just 25% of non-supplement users.

Did people who were aware that sun exposure increased vitamin D levels actually seek sun exposure?

42% who were aware of the interaction sought sun exposure for vitamin D.
Women were more likely than men to seek the sun for vitamin D (45% vs. 35%).
Vitamin D supplement users were much more likely to seek the sun for vitamin D than non-supplement users (49% vs. 35%).

Although not surprising, the most attention-grabbing finding here is that vitamin D supplement users are more likely to be aware that sun exposure increases vitamin D levels and that they are more likely to seek sun exposure for this reason.

People ask, "If I live in a sunny climate, why do I care about vitamin D supplements?" This study, from a public health perspective, is a good illustration of why sun exposure and supplements go hand in hand. If you take a vitamin D supplement, you are more aware of the issue, more aware that you need vitamin D from either the sun or a supplement substitute.

If you don't take a supplement, you are more likely to be blind to the whole issue. My guess is that even if you are aware that the sun increases vitamin D production but do not take a supplement, you are probably less likely to be interested in the nuances of getting the right amount of vitamin D. In the 21st century, the public needs to be aware that both sun exposure and supplements can be part of getting the right amount of vitamin D!

Posted on July 7, 2012 by Brant Cebulla - Vitamin D Council
Clipp, SL et al. Sun-seeking behavior to increase cutaneous vitamin D synthesis: When prevention messages conflict. Public Health Reports, 2011.

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