Report suggests modest dress is health hazard

Veiled women more likely to be vitamin D deficient


Veiled women are at risk for vitamin D deficiency because of lack of sun exposure, putting them at risk for a slew of health disorders, according to a report published Tuesday, though covered women do not seem ready to give up their hijabs just for possible health benefits.

After years of health campaigns against tanning and excessive sun exposure which cause skin cancer, doctors are now warning of vitamin D deficiency and urging more sun exposure especially for those whose dress codes prevent them from showing too much skin.

A 2007 study found 30 to 50 percent of adults and children from sunny climates including Saudi Arabia, UAE, India and Lebanon were vitamin D deficient.

Tuesday’s report confirmed similar findings from another 2007 study of 87 Arab-American women in Dearborn Michigan that found the more conservative a woman dressed, the lower her vitamin D intake and consequently the higher her risk of disease.

Hijabi women who followed a vitamin D-rich diet had higher levels of vitamin D yet still not as high as the women who did not wear the hijab. It found that veiled women had only one fifth of the necessary level of vitamin D while the unveiled women who supplemented their diets had 28 percent.

Not an either or choice

Yet despite such glaring medical evidence correlating religious and cultural dress habits with with a woman's vitamin D intake, Muslim women of different ages and backgrounds are adamant about keeping up the tradition.

"Thanks to science but there are ways around getting vitamin D while upholding religious dress codes," says Egyptian Sumayah Ali, 35, who had worn the hijab since she was 20.

Ali, who covers her head but not her face, said she is not concerned because she gets sunlight everyday.

"These findings do not make me one bit insecure about the hijab and modesty,” she told”I dress modestly and walk every day in the sunlight. When I need maximum exposure to the sun, I go to women-only designated beaches and enjoy the sun in a halal setting."

These findings do not make me one bit insecure about the hijab and modesty

Sumayah Ali, veiled Egyptian

And scientists said they were not trying to suggest women should change their dress, but rather make adjustments to account for the impact of their clothing choice.

"We're not trying to get anyone to take off their hijab, [but] to do things to prevent problems that might arise," Raymond Hobbs a senior staff physician at the Henry Ford Hospital was quoted by as saying.

Susan Johnson, a 29-year-old American convert who recently donned the hijab, said that although vitamin D deficiency is a serious health issue it should not be used to defy modest dress.

“There are other factors that can cause vitamin D deficiency, such as location and type of work the person is engaged in,” Johnson told

“It is a question of initiative, veiled women can make time to gain sun exposure and be healthy. They don’t have to be naked to be healthy,” Johnson said.

Sun vitamin essential

The 'sun' vitamin is responsible for the absorption of calcium in the bones. Once thought to prevent only rickets and osteporosis, insufficient Vitamin D is now implicated in a host of other diseases including diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis, heart disease and infections, says Hobbs. Preventing the sun's rays increases the chances of these disorders.

These risks are exacerbated in dark skinned people, according to a 2007 review in the New England Journal of Medicine which found that people with dark pigment are less efficient at producing vitamin D.

These findings do not make me one bit insecure about the hijab and modesty

Sumayah Ali, Muslim hijabi

Although supplements can help, doctors say the body produces sufficient level of vitamin D with only sun exposure. To obtain recommended daily dose one would have to drink 20 glasses of milk or eat 80 eggs a day, says Hobbs. However a few minutes in the sun allows the body to make far in excess of this.