As some of you already know, I get a kick out of pointing out ways that our growing obsession with safety and hygiene may in fact be killing us.

This week, USAT's posting about a new Johns Hopkins study on Vitamin D deficiency caught my eye. (Study appears this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine.) In addition to all the other health problems it can bring, a lack of Vitamin D seems to up one's risk of dropping dead prematurely.

This is particularly unfortunate considering that, over the past few years, multiple studies have shown that Americans of all ages are suffering from Vitamin D deficiencies. Some of this may have to do with a drop in consumption of dairy products. But at least one reason people don't get as much Vitamin D as they once did: sunscreen. 

In excess doses, Vitamin D consumed orally can be toxic. But your body can produce scads of Vitamin D with somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 minutes of daily sun exposure without sunscreen. (Exact amount varies depending on locale and time of year.) As the American Academy of Pediatrics notes on this site, suncreen prevents your body from producing the substance.

Alas, nowadays we've all been conditioned to never ever leave the house unless we are covered from head to toe in SPF 50 or a heavy duty burka. Wouldn't want to risk a slight burn walking from the front door to the mail box.

But seeing as how saving our skin may be putting all sorts of other organs and systems at risk, maybe it's time to start trying a less hysterical approach. Camping out by the pool wearing nothing but a g-string and a layer of Crisco is probalby a bad idea, but maybe it's not absolutely necessary to slather on industrial strength block for a quick jog to the corner store.

The days of guilt-free savage tans may be behind us, but there's no reason we have to cower pastily in the shadows from  dawn until dusk. The anxiety alone is enough to kill a person. 

--Michelle Cottle