14/08/2014 12:54 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

The Return Of Rickets: All Children To Be Given Free Vitamins?

Boys, aged 6-7, pretending to be astronauts and superheroes in a suburban garden

All young children should be offered vitamin pills on the NHS to combat the rise of rickets and other diseases, Britain's top doctor has said.

The Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies wants to see a programme which gives vitamin A, C and D supplements to disadvantaged under-5s extended to all children.

She has asked the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to examine how cost-effective this would be.

"We know that many children, not just in vulnerable groups, have vitamin deficiencies. We are seeing rickets again. I saw rickets when I was training in the 1970s and it's come back again ... It is appalling."

Rickets, once thought to have been left in the Victorian era, has increased fourfold in the past 15 years as children fail to get enough vitamin D.

About 40 per cent of children are deficient in the vitamin, due to less time outside and parents' fear of skin cancer from sunshine.

A lack of this and other vitamins also caused problems with children's immune systems, Dame Sally said.

"The evidence is crystal clear and the opportunity is huge - investing in children is a certain way of improving the economic health of our nation, as well as our children's wellbeing," she said.

"If we hope that this generation will give us a healthy society and a healthy old age we have to support them."

Child deaths in Britain have fallen much slower than in some other countries, and Dame Sally pointed to existing figures showing there are five excess child deaths a day in Britain compared with rates in Sweden.

"Variation [in child deaths] across the country between regions is more than threefold. I think this is something we should feel profoundly ashamed about," she added.

On measures from diabetes to obesity to mental health, not enough was being done by health, education and social services, Dame Sally said.