Children and Sunlight Exposure: How Much is Too Much?

Sunlight Exposure

How much sunlight exposure is too much? Many parents may wonder if it’s okay to send their children outside when the sun shines brightly, or if they should send them off to play in the yard during the shade of an overcast day.

The Importance of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your body can create for itself when exposed to sunlight. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes; however, according to a recent study from Columbia University, children who are genetically predisposed to develop diabetes may be protected from developing it if they have adequate levels of vitamin D in their systems (The Daily Mail).

A Common Vitamin D Deficiency in Teenagers

You may have heard of vitamin D as something older adults should take to help prevent osteoporosis, but according to a new study, it could also protect against adolescent macular degeneration. This condition causes gradual loss of vision in young people. Teenagers who spend too much time indoors are more at risk of developing this disease, especially if they live far from the equator or are otherwise not exposed to a lot of sunlight.

What Happens When Vitamin D Levels Are Low

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease. Studies have shown that children who get a lot of exposure to sunlight tend to have higher levels of vitamin D—one study found that for every additional hour per week of sunlight exposure in childhood there was a 10% reduction in risk of type 1 diabetes.

The Connection Between Vitamin D and Blue Light

Recent studies suggest that there’s a link between vitamin D deficiency, sunlight exposure, and blue light exposure. The researchers surmise that children who spend more time exposed to sunlight have higher levels of vitamin D—which may help lower their risk of eye issues. But other studies found correlations between sun exposure and problems like macular degeneration or cataracts.

Ways to Get Enough Sunlight

If you’re concerned about your child’s exposure to sunlight, there are a few things you can do to promote healthy sun exposure. For starters, take advantage of midday hours. According to a study published in Clinical Pediatrics, children have their greatest amount of UV light exposure from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., when UV levels are strongest, followed by 4 p.m.-6 p.m.

Tips for Protecting Kids From UV Rays Outside

While children can be exposed to sunlight for short periods of time without any harm, unprotected exposure over an extended period of time can increase their risk of eye damage.
As with adults, children should wear sunglasses that protect them from both UVA and UVB rays. To achieve full protection, your child’s glasses need to offer 99-100% UVA protection, but kids aren’t always good about wearing their eyewear so you may need to take a few extra precautions. Make sure their glasses are also wrap around (as opposed to open in front) so that they protect as much of their face as possible.