In the year 2003 there were 190 cases of rickets reported by the NHS, ten years on in 2013 there has been over a 430% increase with 833 hospital admissions recorded.
What is rickets?
Rickets is a distortion of the bones due to softening and often results in deformities such as bow legs, it also makes the sufferer prone to fractures. It is primarily attributed to a Vitamin D deficiency in the body but can also be caused by a lack of calcium in the diet. It was a common disease in the UK and USA in the 19th century and is still common in some developing countries to this day.
Common symptoms include:
- Bone pain
- Bones break easily
- Low calcium levels in the blood
- Knock knees
- A soft skill
- Bowed legs
- Pelvic or spinal deformities
- Normal physical growth is affected
Why has there been such an increase?
The diet in the western world is becoming poor with an increase in the consumption of junk food and a decrease in the consumption of dairy products. People are also now consuming much less oily fish which is a great source of Vitamin D - during World War II the British government introduced cod liver oil as a supplement to people which help reduce the instances of rickets to very small numbers.
In addition to diet people are becoming more aware of the dangers of burning skin in the sun which can lead to skin cancer. As a result people are more cautious, using far more sun screen and parents are shielding their children from the sun. Exposure to sunlight for 20 minutes or more can be enough to absorb enough Vitamin D into the body.
What role does Vitamin D play?
Vitamin D is crucial for the body to properly absorb calcium and phosphorous from the gut - crucial for the formation of strong bones. In most cases a simple Vitamin D supplement is enough to correct the issue.
The Chief Medical Officer currently advises that all children between the age of 6 months and 5 years should receive a Vitamin D supplement.