Startling figures from the NHS show that the number of children suffering from a deficiency in Vitamin D has increased from 1,398 cases in the years 2009/10 to 4,638 children in 2013/14.
This is worrying information because Vitamin D deficiency in children can cause rickets, a condition that affects bone development in children, causing them to become soft and weak increasing the risk bone deformities. The incidence of rickets in children has been steadily rising during the last 15 years.
Last year the chief medical officer for England said that GPs should prescribe supplements for children from the age of 6 months to 5 years especially during the winter months.
Why the rise?
Although Vitamin D can be obtained from foods sources such as cod liver oil, egg yolk, red meat and foods fortified with the vitamin, sunlight is its major source.
There are concerns that the deficiency may arise from children’s indoor lifestyles, spending too much time on computers and gaming consoles during summer when they should be topping up their reserves for the body to use during winter. From November to March, the northern hemisphere including the UK, the sun is low on ultraviolet light meaning that we have to rely on our body stores.
What to look out for
Signs and symptoms in children and adolescents include: aches and pains; myopathy (muscle weakness) causing delayed walking; rickets with bowed legs, knock knees and poor growth.
Other ‘at risk’ groups
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says that 1 in 5 adults may be deficient which may increase their risk of developing osteoporosis and cancer. Those at particular risk are the elderly who cannot get out easily and about and those who are housebound.
Other groups at risk of Vitamin D deficiency are pregnant and breastfeeding women, African, Afro-Caribbean and South Asian populations.
If you are concerned about anyone in your family being at risk of low Vitamin D, ask you GP for a blood test to check levels.