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Researchers are seeking a diverse group of 1600 pre-school children aged between two and four years old from across New Zealand to take part in a study designed to assess their vitamin D status.
The study, named Te Ra Whakaora, is funded by a grant from the Health Research Council, and aims to use vitamin D status to identify illnesses associated with low vitamin D levels. From this, they will develop a vitamin D deficiency risk assessment tool that health professionals can use.
Study supervisor Dr Pamela von Hurst, co director of the Vitamin D Research Centre, says there is no information available at all for this age group.
“We know something about the vitamin D status of New Zealand adults, and a little about new-born babies, but we have very little information about the vitamin D status of pre-schoolers.”
Dr von Hurst says they want to investigate the relationship between low vitamin D status and respiratory infection, asthma, eczema and allergies. August and September – when sunlight hours are fewer and exposure to vitamin D is reduced – is the ideal time to conduct this study.
“We get most of our vitamin D from the sun, and it is essential to help build strong bones and maintain good health,” she says. “These days parents are very aware of protecting their children from sunburn, but this could also negatively affect their ability to get enough vitamin D for good overall health.”
The risk assessment tool will help community-based health professionals quickly recognise pre-schoolers at high risk of vitamin D deficiency, allowing them to give appropriate advice to parents about sun exposure or supplementation.
Pharmacists across New Zealand are supporting the study by testing the toddlers. They will be recording information and taking test samples to send back to the researchers for laboratory analysis.
Carolyn Cairncross, the PhD student conducting the research says support from pharmacists is very helpful. “Having the pharmacies helping with the study means that parents don’t have to travel far to participate. There’s a questionnaire, which takes about 10 minutes to complete before they go along to the pharmacy. Once there, it’s just a quick finger prick test which collects two drops of blood for analysis,” she says.
“Most pre-schoolers are excited by the thought of choosing a special plaster so there’s minimal fuss in the hands of our specially-trained pharmacists.”
All children tested in the study will receive a participation certificate, and their parents will receive a letter with the results of their child’s vitamin D status when all tests have been completed in six months. Complete results of the study are expected to be available in 2014, and a copy will be sent to all families participating in the study.
“This is a great opportunity for families to contribute to the health of all future New Zealand children,” says Ms Cairncross. “We are hoping that pre-schoolers from a wide cross-section of the community will participate.”
For more information check out: http://terawhakaora.massey.ac.nz
Call: 0800MASSEY (0800 627739) and ask for Te Ra Whakaora (Business hours)
Call or text: 021 422 531
The study is one of several research projects the Vitamin D Research Centre is undertaking this year. Other studies include a vitamin D supplementation trial for Auckland-based sufferers of psoriasis, which is also looking for participants. More information is available on: http://psoriasis.massey.ac.nz
Further information on the work of the Vitamin D Research Centre is available at:
Next year Massey will open a College of Health bringing together disciplines – including the Vitamin D Research Centre – and focus on illness and injury prevention, rather than cure. The college will have approximately 2000 equivalent full-time students and 250 staff.