- Dame Sally Davies has ordered review into cost of giving out free vitamins
- Comes after a rise in the number of cases of rickets in children in the UK
- Increase is being put down to fact children spend less time outside playing
- Rickets can cause bone deformities such as bowed legs and a curved spine
Doctors have called for under-fours to be given free vitamins after a rise in the number of cases of rickets due to a lack of exposure to sunlight.
The country’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies is said to be concerned at the number of children suffering from the condition, which is caused by a deficiency in vitamin D.
The disease, a scourge of Victorian Britain, was virtually eradicated after the Second World War but is returning as more and more youngsters are used to staying indoors playing video games than going outside.
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Dame Sally Davies, the country’s chief medical officer, who has ordered a cost review into giving all under-fours free vitamin D supplements
Now, it has been reported that Professor Davies has ordered the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) to review the cost of providing vitamin supplements to all children under the age of four, in a bid to reverse the trend.
The move is being supported by one of Britain’s leading experts on vitamin D deficiency at University College Hospital London Alastair Sutcliffe, who has spoken about an ‘epidemic’ of cases due to a lack of sun exposure and overuse of sunscreen.
He told the Sunday Times: ‘Nothing is free but the cost of the ill-effects of deficiency, such as rickets and anaemia from families not providing children with these supplements is greater for the NHS.
‘Sunblock is so powerful it does work but you end up with no exposure to the sun.
‘The outcome is that you are blocking out sunshine and you have a secondary effect of reduced exposure to sunshine which the human race needs.’
Rickets is caused by a deficiency in vitamin D and causes bone deformities such as bowed legs, pictured, and a curvature of the spine
Rickets, which is also known as soft bones, can cause deformities such as bowed legs and a curvature of the spine.
During the war children were given food supplements such as cod liver oil, but this practice stopped in the 1950s.
An estimated 40 per cent of children are estimated to have vitamin D levels below the recommended amount.
Figures from the NHS show there were 833 hospital admissions for children suffering from the condition in the financial year 2012-13.
Professor Davies has previously spoken out about the advantages of giving free vitamins to young children.
A scheme has already been set up in deprived areas of Birmingham handing out supplements, which has halved the number of cases of rickets and other deficiency problems.
She said: ‘We are offering these vitamins to vulnerable children and the take-up is low, but many children not in these communities need them too.’
The NHS already recommends all youngsters aged six months to five years take the vitamins, but parents must pay for them unless they are part of the NHS’s means-tested Healthy Start scheme.
Professor Davies said the UK’s record on children’s health used to be ‘one of the best but we are now the worst’.
Possible causes include lifestyle behaviours in pregnancy such as smoking, and poor care in infancy.
RETURN OF RICKETS, THE VICTORIAN SCOURGE WHICH CAUSES DEFORMITIES
Rickets, or soft and deformed bones, was first noted by physicians in ancient Rome but was not linked with lack of vitamin D until the start of the 20th century.
It was common in Victorian times because of lack of access to sunlight – which the body needs to make vitamin D – and poor diets.
It mostly disappeared in the West during the 1940s thanks to the fortification of foods such as margarine, and children were also routinely given cod liver oil.
Rickets is still a major problem in third-world countries.
However, UK cases have been rising in the past 15 years, from 183 in 1996 to 762 in 2011.
Experts believe this is partly because children are eating less fish and eggs than in the past.
They also blame extensive use of sunscreen, and children spending more time indoors.
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