Currently only children aged between six months and four years whose parents are on benefits receive the free supplements containing vitamins A, C and D under the scheme.
However, in her annual report, which this year focuses on children’s health, Professor Davies has asked the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to examine the cost-effectiveness of extending the scheme to all children under five.
The report points to a case study in Birmingham, in which universal access to vitamins has been credited with halving the number of cases of rickets and other health problems linked to a vitamin D deficiency.
The British Dietetic Association Paediatric Group has welcomed the report. Chairman of the group, Jessica Williams, said, ‘Children under five have a dietary requirement for vitamin D. There are some dietary sources of vitamin D in oily fish and eggs, and some foods are fortified with it, such as fat spreads and breakfast cereals. However, it is difficult for young children in the quantities of food they eat to receive sufficient vitamin D for their growing needs and they are therefore at risk of being deficient. We support Professor Dame Sally Davies’ recommendation for universal supplementation.’
The chief medical officer’s report, entitled Prevention Pays: Our Children Deserve Better, also calls for early action on children’s health in order to save the taxpayer money. Its data suggests that reducing obesity by one percentage point in children and young people could lead to savings of £1 billion a year.
The UK is shown to be below other developed countries in terms of children’s health. Findings in the report include the statistic that five more British children die of avoidable causes every day than in Sweden.
Dr Hilary Emery, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said this was unacceptable. ‘The UK must have greater expectations for children’s health if we are to be the best place in the world for children to grow up. As a nation we must be more ambitious about giving every child the best start in life, and this should be a priority for all decision makers in central and local government.’
Specific recommendations set out in the report, in addition to the review of Healthy Start, include:
- A named GP should be available for every child with long term conditions
- A new national children’s week to help change our national culture to celebrate children and young people and help bring together government, charities and the NHS
- Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission should routinely ask for evidence of how well children’s and health services work together as part of the inspection process
- A regular survey on mental health among children and young people should be commissioned and published annually and include comparisons with other developed countries