Medical experts in the UK have called for Vitamin D to be added to milk and other food products in a bid to halt a rise in the number of children suffering from rickets.
Writing a clinical review in the British Medical Journal, Professor Simon Pearce and Dr Tim Cheetham of Newcastle University in the north-east of England said vitamin D deficiency was "disturbingly common" in the UK and was to blame for causing a number of serious health problems, in particular rickets, a condition that causes painful and deformed bow-legs.
The authors cited several studies that show that the incidence of the disease are increasing in young people, they warned, possibly because a traditional UK diet often lacks vitamin D, or because of recent lifestyle trends such as children staying indoors more to play video games. The main source of vitamin D for humans is sunlight through skin exposure. But it is also present in foods, in particular oily fish.
Cheetham, senior lecturer in paediatric endocrinology, said "I am dismayed by the increasing numbers of children we are treating with this entirely preventable condition. Fifty years ago, many children would have been given regular doses of cod liver oil, but this practice has all but died out. We believe that a more robust approach to statutory food supplementation with vitamin D, for example in milk, is needed in the UK, as this measure has already been introduced successfully in many other countries in similar parts of the world."
Simon Pearce, professor of endocrinology, added: "Kids tend to stay indoors more these days and play on their computers instead of enjoying the fresh air. This means their Vitamin D levels are worse than in previous years. A change in public health policy is required. Health professionals have been slow to deal with this problem, even though we have known about it for a while. Some measures have been taken but the number of patients still presenting with symptoms of vitamin D deficiency shows we have a long way to go."
'Diagnosis and management of vitamin D deficiency' by Simon HS Pearce and Tim D Cheetham; BMJ 2010;340:b5664. View the paper online at http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/extract/340/jan11_1/b5664.