14th June 2011

Vitamin D deficiency can be common in women during pregnancy, even among those living in countries with plenty of sun, which is the main source of the vitamin.

To find out more about their knowledge of sun exposure and vitamin D during pregnancy a QUT PhD researcher is asking pregnant women across Australia to participate in an online survey.

Dr Yue Wu, a paediatrician and PhD student at Queensland University of Technology's (QUT) NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Sun and Health, said a previous Australian study had found that 15 per cent of pregnant women were vitamin D deficient.

"This is a disturbing fact because we know that sufficient vitamin D protects pregnant women against hypertension or pre-eclampsia." Dr Wu said.

"There is also some evidence that lack of vitamin D may be associated with the development of gestational diabetes in mothers. Because vitamin D assists with the absorption of calcium, babies born to mothers with low levels of this vitamin are at risk of suboptimal bone growth and low birth-weight.

"Evidence has accumulated that these babies can also run a higher risk of developing asthma and allergic outcomes as a consequence."

Dr Wu said it was unknown whether women's vitamin D levels took a dive during pregnancy because of changes in sun exposure or whether it had to do with the growing foetus's requirements or both.

"I am undertaking this study to shed some light on this issue by investigating pregnant women's knowledge of, attitudes to and behaviour in relation to vitamin D and sun exposure," she said.

"Vitamin D is crucial for both the health of mothers during pregnancy and for healthy growth and development of the baby. The results of this study will be used to develop public health education and intervention to reduce vitamin D deficiency in expectant mothers in Australia and worldwide."

Dr Wu is seeking women all around Australia who are more than three months pregnant to complete an online survey at http://www.cresunandhealth.org.au/engage_with_us/

Media contact: Niki Widdowson, QUT media officer, 07 3138 1841 or n.widdowson@qut.edu.au

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