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Parents fail to give their children vital Vitamin D supplements

4 min read

Vitamin D is crucial for the maintenance of healthy, strong bones, and the normal function of muscles and the immune system, a deficiency in the vitamin can cause rickets in young children and has been linked to heart disease, bowel cancer, breast cancer, multiple sclerosis and diabetes in adults. 

There has been recent widespread coverage across several national newspapers, news websites, and national radio stations reporting that young children are not getting the essential vitamins they need because parents are not giving them supplements. 

This coverage is based on a survey commissioned by the Health Food Manufacturers' Association (HFMA), the survey found that 64% felt their children were getting enough vitamin D from their diets alone. The survey, which saw 10,000 UK adults questioned, including 5,800 parents, found that 76% of people didn't know that youngsters are advised to take vitamin D supplements. 

NHS states children up to 5 to receive daily vitamin D supplements

The article reiterated NHS guidelines on vitamin D supplementation, which states that children aged six months to five years should receive daily vitamin D supplements, but reported that 59% of parents admitted they did not give these supplements to their children. Other statistics referenced were that 64% of parents said they were satisfied with the amount of Vitamin D their child got from their diet, and 76% of people didn't know that youngsters are advised to take Vitamin D supplements.

40% of children are not getting enough vitamin D

Health officials have estimated that 40% of children are not getting enough vitamin D. Last year, England's chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies recommended that all under fives should receive free drops or tablets containing vitamins A, C and D. Currently only low-income families qualify for free vitamins on the NHS.

Lack of Vitamin D claimed by experts to be behind return of Victorian diseases 

The lack of Vitamin D has been claimed by experts to be 'behind the return' of Victorian diseases - according to health figures TB, Scarlet fever and Rickets are on the rise. The disease which has seen the sharpest rise is Rickets - the number of hospital admissions for the bone deficiency has risen over the last decade from 190 to 833, according to NHS figures.

Lack of sun exposure is underlying cause

Dr Nuria Martinez-Aller from St Thomas Hospital confirmed Rickets was on the rise and suggests this is down to a lack of outdoor activity, stating "We should expose our skin to sunshine at least for a few minutes to midday before putting on sun protection and factor 30 is adequate - of course don't risk sunburn. And then summer holidays in the sun and winter holidays in the sun. Expose children to parks and outdoor life. Children are watching TV and playing on computers much more."

This view is supported by a statement from Dr Adrian Martineau, vitamin D expert and clinical reader in respiratory infection and immunity at Queen Mary University of London, he said: "One key reason why so many are deficient is because since the 1990s, in an attempt to reduce the risk of skin cancer, most of the developed world has become increasingly adverse to sun exposure."

Scarlet fever is also on the rise - according to Public Health England, cases rose by a third in the first two months in 2014. One of the biggest killers of the Victorian era, Tuberculosis, killed one in four people however despite powerful antibiotics, Public Health England found a reported 8,751 cases in the UK in 2012. England's chief medical officer has said the public should feel "profoundly ashamed" of a "very worrying picture" of children's health and called for the scheme of free vitamins to be extended to all under-fives to tackle the return of aforementioned diseases such as Rickets.

Best sources of vitamin D

The best way to get Vitamin D is via sun on the skin, while it is added to some items such as fat spreads and breakfast cereals it only occurs naturally in a few foods. It is found in eggs to a degree but more substantially in oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, pilchards, fresh tuna and salmon. Fish is also a staple of the Mediterranean Diet which is heralded as the best for heart disease, stroke prevention and diabetes prevention.

HFMA's executive director Graham Keen states: "The public needs access to straightforward, responsible information about how essential vitamins and minerals work. "Everyone should know that the best solution for most people to consume key nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, is to eat as healthy a diet as possible. However, it should be recognised that a daily food supplement provides important insurance for millions looking to safeguard their nutritional intake."

Experts are strongly urging the British population to boost their Vitamin D levels during the winter months of January to March when insufficient UVB sun rays, required by our bodies to produce the vitamin D, leads to an increased risk of deficiency of the vital vitamin. One way to re-address the balance during said months is to eat more fish! Fish is being increasingly brought to the fore as an excellent source of Vitamin D. The findings have been revealed in a recent survey from Fish is the Dish, the consumer face of industry body Seafish, which shows that the average person’s seafood consumption in the UK is below the recommended amount of two portions per week.

More than half of adults don’t consume the recommended weekly amount of seafood, while 52% of UK parents with children under 18 think their children don’t eat enough. Juliette Kellow, expert nutritionist for Fish is the Dish, states that regularly providing meals that contain oily fish, which is naturally rich in Vitamin D, is vital at certain times of year when daylight is at diminished levels. Good and easy choices include tuna sandwiches, mackerel dip or adding salmon to a fish pie.

Eat more fish!

Eating at least one portion of oil-rich fish a week may help to improve Vitamin D status so it’s strongly recommended that parents think of this when preparing the family’s weekly meals. Otherwise supplementation may provide an easy way of ensuring adequate dietary intake. 

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.