Dame Sally Davies, the government's chief medical officer, has raised concerns over the increasing number of children with vitamin D deficiency — a prime cause of rickets.
She has ordered the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) to conduct a review of the cost-effectiveness of giving vitamin supplements to all children under four.
X-ray of the legs of a young child with rickets
Alastair Sutcliffe, one of Britain’s leading experts on vitamin D deficiency and a consultant paediatrician at University College London Hospitals (UCLH), has voiced his support for the review.
Sutcliffe said that the rise in the number of children diagnosed with rickets could be due to a trend for children to spend more time indoors, but added that parents might also have gone “over the top” in their use of sunblock to protect children from skin damage.
“Sunblock is so powerful, it does work but you end up with no exposure to the sun," he said.
“People are perhaps overdoing it. They are putting all of this stuff on in our climate.
“The outcome is that you are blocking out sunshine and you have a secondary effect of reduced exposure to sunshine which the human race needs.”
He suggested parents should consider a lower factor suncream when their children are out in the British sun, — such as factor 30, instead of factor 40 or 50.
Rickets, a disease that can cause bone pain and deformities including bowed legs and curvature of the spine, was rife in the Victorian era but had been virtually wiped out until recent years, when doctors noticed an increase in the number of children developing with the condition.
The latest national diet and nutrition survey, conducted by Public Health England, found that 7.5% of children aged 18 months to 3 years were low in vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency can also cause poor growth, heart muscle disease and seizures in infants, and is linked osteoporosis, several forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.
Dr Nitin Shori, Medical Director of the Pharmacy2U and a working NHS GP, advises that parents should also ensure their children are getting vitamin D through their diet:
“Time spent outdoors is a major factor in increasing vitamin D levels, but making sure children have a healthy diet is of course important too," he told HuffPost UK LIfestyle.
"Good sources of vitamin D include eggs, oily fish and fortified cereals. Dairy products like milk and cheese are good providers of calcium, but there are other sources too, including broccoli.
“In some cases vitamin supplements might be advisable.”