Lack of Sunlight and Exercise increase Women’s Risk of Osteoporosis



Over 40% of women in the UAE are at risk of not getting enough sunlight to source essential levels of Vitamin D and nearly 20% of this group are never exposed to the sun at all, according to results of an independent survey released today by Anlene. The “Lifestyle for Lifelong Bones” research which canvassed both Emirati nationals and foreign residents also revealed that 60% of women take only one hour of exercise or less a week, with over half of that group (31%) not taking any exercise at all.

Speaking of the results that were announced today in advance of World Osteoporosis Day, Joanne Todd, Fonterra Brands Nutritionist and Senior Health Platform Manager said: “Osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to breakdown and increases fracture risk, is a major health risk in the UAE. Sufficient intake of Vitamin D is vital to absorb calcium and promote bone health. In fact, it’s so important that our bodies have the ability to create vitamin D when our skin (e.g. hands and face) is exposed to enough sunlight. There is no absolute guideline on an individual’s daily sun exposure due to a range of factors such as skin type, geographic location, gender and diet but for women to receive so little natural sun exposure or none at all is concerning. The results of the survey show that due to women’s extreme lack of sunlight exposure in the UAE, vitamin D deficiency could reach alarming levels with serious consequences for long-term mobility if it isn’t received from alternative sources such as food rich in Vitamin D.”

The main risk factors contributing to low vitamin D levels include older age, being of female gender, presence in higher geographical latitudes, less sunlight exposure, darker skin pigmentation, dietary habits, and the absence of vitamin D fortification in common foods. Urbanization, where people tend to live and work indoors, as well as cultural practices that tend towards sun avoidance and the wearing of traditional clothing that covers the skin, are also factors. Other lifestyle practices such as high consumption of caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee and carbonated drinks, as well as tobacco, which are all very common in the UAE, can also adversely impact on bone health.

The severity of the problem in Middle East exists from the combination of several of these risk factors. A 2009 Report from the International Osteoporosis Foundation and the Committee of Scientific Advisors’ Nutrition Working Group recommended that national Vitamin D prevention plans should include regular, safe, limited exposure to sunlight and improved dietary intake of Vitamin D, while also considering fortified foods.

Of the ethnic groups surveyed, Arabs, both local and foreign, received the least sunlight with more than half receiving less than ten minutes of sunlight exposure a day or no sunlight exposure at all. Geographically, lack of sunlight exposure was consistent across most locations in the Emirates, except in Sharjah where almost one third of women claim not to have any daily exposure to sunlight.

Ms Todd added that the risk to bone health is heightened by the profound lack of exercise that women are taking in the UAE, which is vital for preventing bone loss and helping people to stay healthy and active throughout adulthood: “Today’s modern lifestyles are putting women under increasing pressure to juggle priorities and sometimes this is at the expense of their diet and general wellbeing. It’s so important that women make the time to exercise and weight-bearing activities such as walking, running, yoga or lifting light weights are the best way to keep bones strong while benefitting overall health and wellbeing.”

Joanne continued: “That’s why it is extremely concerning that women in the UAE are not taking nearly enough exercise and nearly one third take none at all. Not only does this put their bones at significant risk of weakening which could jeopardise future mobility, it also has many wider implications for women’s overall health and well-being.”

In terms of ethnic breakdown, 44% of Arabs claimed not to do any exercise and 26% do less than an hour a week. Around one third of Asians said that they did minimal exercise and one quarter does none at all.

The highlights also showed that 61% were either not concerned or only fairly concerned about osteoporosis. 55% of all respondents would only start to think about caring for their bones from the age of 30 onwards.

Commenting on this observation Joanne said: “Osteoporosis poses a real threat to the health of women in the UAE and more needs to be done to help women realise this. Also, bone mass, which keeps bones strong, is built throughout life and peaks at age 30. If women are only starting to think about looking after their bones from this age they will have lost the best opportunity to protect themselves against developing osteopenia (thinning bones) or osteoporosis later in life.

“This debilitating disease doesn’t have to be inevitable if more people are aware of its existence and how this can be combated through simple measures such as having a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D combined with regular exercise throughout life, especially from early adulthood onwards.”

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Kamal Gupta, Managing Director, Fonterra Brands Middle East and Africa added: “Fonterra has had a long-standing interest in bone health and has undertaken extensive research into the causes and prevention of osteoporosis. Today’s survey results demonstrate that understanding people’s behaviours and perceptions around osteoporosis and healthy living are really critical for building a complete picture of bone health. Through getting to know more about lifestyle habits, we can help people to make adjustments that fit easily into daily routines to stay healthy, mobile and enjoy life to the fullest.”

Jessica Robertson, a British triathlete based in Dubai and a member of the Anlene Ambassador Board, understands how important a healthy lifestyle is. “Being a young athlete means exercise is of course part of my daily routine, but all women should be incorporating weekly routines into their lifestyles. For the 30% of women surveyed admitting to not taking any exercise at all, I would strongly encourage them to look at social activities such as walking. It is a great way to keep bones healthy, families can do this together and all you need is pair of comfortable shoes! Or why not try yoga with friends as this is another recommended form of exercise to keep bones strong.”

To date, Fonterra has spent over US$50 million on bone health research to increase its understanding of osteoporosis and the role of dairy in its prevention. This includes 18 clinical trials to evaluate how dairy best supports bone health. Fonterra is the IOF’s Regional Nutrition Partner in the Middle East. The partnership is dedicated to raising awareness and improving bone health.

As part of this, Anlene, a nutrient-rich adult milk and range of dairy products was developed by Fonterra almost 20 years ago to promote good bone health. The range was introduced to the UAE in June 2007. It includes a formulation of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K, zinc and magnesium which combine to assist the effective absorption of bone nutrients and improve bone quality.


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