Since 1998, the “Sun Smart – Slip Slop Slap” campaign has had a significant effect on public behaviour, responsible for a 50% reduction in the number of people letting themselves get sunburnt, ultimately causing skin cancer.
Researchers however have discovered that the success of the campaign may have contributed to the prevalence of vitamin D deficiencies in more Australians than previously thought.
New research has found that almost 23% of women are vitamin D deficient which may lead to osteoporosis.
Lead author, Carol Nowson of Deakin University, Victoria says it is time to devise a more appropriate health message. Rather than looking to fortify foods with vitamin D, she says that by encouraging high-risk groups to increase their sun exposure will decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis. In an earlier study, results found that rural residents suffered fewer fractures through osteoporosis because of their increased exposure to sunlight.
“We have no data to indicate that skin cancer campaigns have affected vitamin D levels in the (Australian population) as no-one has measured them until recently. But we do need to conduct research to determine if those that are vitamin D deficient are following the ‘sun smart’ message to extremes,” says Nowson. “If the ‘sun smart’ campaign is found to contribute to low vitamin D levels in specific groups, and it may only be in people with a history of skin cancer, then we need to reframe a message for them.”
Australia still has the world’s highest incidence of skin cancer despite the success of the ‘sun smart’ campaign. One out of two Australians will be treated for skin cancer, and melanoma is the country’s third most common cancer.
However, other experts agree that encouraging sun exposure may be appropriate in some cases. Bruce Armstrong, of the New South Wales Cancer Council Epidemiology Unit, adds, “There is also increasing evidence that sun exposure may reduce autoimmune disease and therefore I think it is important to take a balanced approach to this issue.”
(Source: The Lancet)