Hours spent inside by children playing computer games or watching television are thought to be contributing to the resurgence of rickets in the UK. Associated with poverty in Victorian Britain and malnutrition in developing countries, rickets is caused by chronic vitamin D deficiency, resulting in abnormal growth and 'bow legs'. Dr Tim Cheetham and Professor Simon Pearce, scientists from Newcastle writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), call for Vitamin D supplementation in milk and other food products in the UK. 'I am dismayed by the increasing numbers of children we are treating with this entirely preventable condition.' There are currently more than 20 new cases of rickets per year in Newcastle alone.
People normally receive their Vitamin D from a small number of foodstuffs such as egg yolks and oily fish, or by synthesising it in the skin when exposed to sunlight. It is thought, however, that half of all British adults experience Vitamin D deficiency in the winter and spring; prevalence is higher in Scotland and the north of England, and amongst the Asian population. A recent study also suggested that Vitamin D supplementation could cut rates of bowel cancer, although not necessarily more so than an adequate natural intake.
Vitamin D supplementation of food products has already been successfully implemented in other countries. Moves to introduce it in Britain are currently opposed by both the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and the Food Standards Agency.