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Rickets on the return

4th February 2011

Orthopaedic expert Dr Joe Reed from Southampton General Hospital fears the safe sun message may have inadvertently created vitamin D deficiencies, resulting in a resurgence of rickets.

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Rickets was until recently thought to be a thing of the past.

But at Southampton General Hospital, we have seen evidence to suggest a resurgence of vitamin D deficiency amongst children.

And the childhood vitamin D deficiency resulting in skeletal pains or bony deformities does not appear to be confined to the lower classes or ethnic minorities. Those from the leafy suburbs and coastal towns are just as likely to be affected.

Vitamin D, essential for bone growth and mineralisation during childhood, is produced in the skin following exposure to ultraviolet B light.

Deficiency of it is a major factor in the development of bone deformities including rickets, knock knees, bowed legs and non-specific musculoskeletal pain in children.

Some 40% of children presenting to the orthopaedic outpatient service in Southampton have vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency.

But these conditions are avoidable and 15 minutes of sunshine a day is nothing to be feared.
GPs need to be aware of the initial symptoms of a deficiency and parents should be aware of the need to allow their children to get a moderate amount of sunshine.

Lack of sunlight is thought to be a major factor in Vitamin D deficiency with intentional avoidance, the use of sunscreen due to concerns of skin cancer risk and children choosing more indoor activities.

The Department of Health has a role to play in raising awareness and while a 19th century epidemic may be back, there is a cost-effective solution.

 

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