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Photochem Photobiol. 2013 Jan-Feb;89(1):219-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-1097.2012.01221.x. Epub 2012 Sep 18.

Validation of brief questionnaire measures of sun exposure and skin pigmentation against detailed and objective measures including vitamin D status.

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National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.


Self-reported sun exposure is commonly used in research, but how well this represents actual sun exposure is poorly understood. From February to July 2011, a volunteer sample (n = 47) of older adults (≥45 years) in Canberra, Australia, answered brief questions on time outdoors (weekdays and weekends) and natural skin color. They subsequently maintained a sun diary and wore an ultraviolet radiation (UVR) digital dosimeter for 7 days. Melanin density was estimated using reflectance spectrophotometry; lifetime sun damage was assessed using silicone casts of the back of the hand; and serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) concentration was assayed. Questionnaire-reported time outdoors correlated significantly with diary-recorded time outdoors (Spearman correlation r(s) = 0.66; 95% CI 0.46, 0.80; P < 0.001) and UVR dosimeter dose (r(s ) = 0.46; 95% CI 0.18, 0.68; P = 0.003), but not 25(OH)D concentration (r(s) = 0.24; 95% CI -0.05, 0.50; P = 0.10). Questionnaire-reported untanned skin color correlated significantly with measured melanin density at the inner upper arm (r(s) = 0.49; 95% CI 0.24, 0.68; P < 0.001). In a multiple linear regression model, statistically significant predictors of 25(OH)D concentration were self-reported frequency of physical activity, skin color and recent osteoporosis treatment (R(2) = 0.54). In this study, brief questionnaire items provided valid rankings of sun exposure and skin color, and enabled the development of a predictive model for 25(OH)D concentration.

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