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Children 'risk of rickets'

22nd June 2007

Doctors in Scotland warn that children are in danger of developing rickets because government advice on vitamin D is not being followed.

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Paediatricians from Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, writing in the British Medical Journal, have said they recently made a diagnosis of rickets in five babies. The doctors stated that none of the mothers - who had given birth to the children diagnosed with the condition - had taken vitamin D supplements.

The condition can cause a softening of the bones which may lead to skeletal deformity and fractures. Current government recommendations say pregnant and breastfeeding women should take vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin D is mainly produced by the skin's exposure to sunlight, although some foods contain the vitamin. It helps the body to absorb calcium, which is needed in order to form healthy bones.

Children from certain ethnic groups - Asian, African, Afro-Caribbean or Middle Eastern - are at the most risk of rickets. Absorption of vitamin D is more difficult in people with darker skin. This is due to higher levels of pigmentation, which lessen the skin's ability to produce vitamin D from sunshine.

Dr Scott Williamson, specialist registrar at Ninewells hospital, said GPs and health visitors are failing to mention the dangers to parents.

"If you try to find official government advice, it's not that easy to find," he said. "It may be the government needs to better disseminate the guidance...also we're failing ethnic groups by not reinforcing the public health message."





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