Call for children to be given vitamin D as cases of rickets triple

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Experts are urging parents to give their children daily doses of Vitamin D, as research shows a lack of awareness of its benefits.

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Children in the UK can absorb vitamin D from sunlight between March and September

The call by the Vitamin D Mission, an industry-sponsored public health awareness campaign to eradicate vitamin D deficiency in children under five, comes after an analysis of Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) shows the number of children diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency and rickets has tripled in the last five years.

In 2009/10 1,398 children from birth to 16 in England were diagnosed as being deficient of the vitamin. This rose to 4,638 in 2013/14, says the campaign, which has released the figures during National Vitamin D Awareness Week (20-26 October).

A survey of more than 1,000 parents of children aged five and under, also commissioned by the campaign, shows that half know little or nothing about the role of vitamin D in their child’s health, and more than a third have never received information about the importance of the vitamin for their child’s health.

More than 80 per cent were unaware of the Department of Health (DoH) guidance that all children aged six months to five years old should take a daily supplement of vitamin D.

Similarly, a survey of 250 GPs and health visitors also carried out, revealed that almost a third are unaware of the DoH guidance.

Just 7 per cent of those who are responsible for conveying key healthcare messages to new mothers were aware which months (between March and September) the sunlight in the UK is strong enough for skin to synthesise vitamin D.

Dr Benjamin Jacobs, consultant paediatrician at The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and clinical consultant to the Vitamin D Mission, said, ‘These findings are very worrying as they seem to suggest that parents in the UK are still not properly informed of the major health issues associated with low levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D-related conditions, such as rickets, are increasing year on year so there is a need for us to work harder in ensuring parents are aware of the Department of Health guidelines and acting on them.

‘Due to the weak sunlight during the winter months, we are urging parents to make every day a vitamin D day, and include naturally occurring or fortified vitamin D-rich foods into their children's diets, or to provide them with a daily supplement.’

The Vitamin D Mission, which is a partnerhship between Kellogg's, Cow and Gate, supplement manufacturers DLux, and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, has developed an online test for parents to calculate whether their child’s vitamin D intake is sufficient.

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