Washout summer could lead to rickets epidemic in children not exposed to regular sunlight needed to produce vitamin D
Regular sunlight is needed for production of vitamin D, which keeps growing bones healthy and strongEthnic minorities are more susceptible to rickets, because darker skin doesn't absorb vitamin D as efficiently in cooler climatesBut warning of an epidemic applies to all races
16:56 GMT, 3 July 2012
Britain’s washout summer could cause a rickets epidemic in children, doctors have warned.
The record rainfall throughout April, May and June – with more forecast until September – has robbed youngsters of vitamin D.
Regular sunlight is needed for the production of the vitamin, which keeps growing bones healthy and strong.
Speaking at the BMA’s annual
conference in Brighton, Dr Balch said: 'Modern living, with an
increasingly indoor lifestyle, extended cloud cover, air pollution,
modern diets and the overuse of sunscreen have reduced access to natural
Fears: Britains washout summer could cause a rickets epidemic in children due to a lack of regular sunlight needed for the production of vitamin D
Doctors now fear that there could be an explosion of illnesses among children, including rickets, fractured bones, MS and sudden infant death.
Dr Nicola Balch, an associate specialist in child health at the British Medical Association, said: 'When people aren’t getting out in the sun there’s going to be an increase in the amount of these vitamin D deficiency related illnesses.
'We have been aware of the problem in Scotland for a number of years. The temporary effect in the rest of the UK of heavy rainfall could have the same effect that there is north of the border.
'People need just 20 to 30 minutes of sun three or four times a week to ensure they get enough vitamin D, but obviously with our weather it can be impossible to get this.'
While ethnic minorities are more susceptible to rickets, because darker skin doesn't absorb vitamin D as efficiently in cooler climates, the warning of an epidemic applies to all races.
The BMA recently passed a motion calling for a national vitamin D supplement programme.
Dr Balch said in Brighton: 'Prevention is better than cure, and it is unlikely that the NHS will adopt a policy of prescribing holidays in the sun.
Ethnic minorities are more susceptible to rickets because darker skin doesn't absorb vitamin D as efficiently in cooler climates. The warning of a rickets epidemic applies to all races, however
'Therefore I urge all four health departments in the UK to introduce a national programme of vitamin D supplements.'
Humans make 90 per cent of their vitamin D naturally from sunlight exposure on their skin. Without sunlight, the shortfall must be made up with supplements and a healthy diet.
The most common illness caused by a lack of vitamin D is rickets, which leads to softening and weakening of the bones.
Dr Blanch said that there is also a link between the increase in Scotland of cases of MS and vitamin D shortfalls.
Medics said vitamin D deficiency is particularly noticeable among children up to three years old whose bones are developing.
Parents are also unaware of the dietary requirements during poor weather, according to research.
'People need just 20 to 30 minutes of
sun three or four times a week to ensure they get enough vitamin D, but
obviously with our weather it can be impossible to get this'
June is already the third wettest on record, Met Office figures show, with 122.3mm of rain. This puts it just behind the second wettest June, in 1912, which saw 124.5mm of rain and a little way off the wettest June, in 2007, which saw 136.2mm.
May saw flood alerts and severe weather warnings while April was the wettest since records began in 1910.
The miserable weather has sparked calls from doctors for vitamin D to be added to foods and supplements rolled out nationally.
Nutritionist Leanne Olivier, from GrowingUpMilkInfo.com, said nearly eight out of ten parents are unaware of toddlers’ specific nutritional needs in relation to vitamin D and the average British toddler is only getting 27 per cent of their daily vitamin D needs from their diet.
She said: 'There’s a reason why vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin – without bright light we just can’t make it.
'The cloud cover on rainy days has an obvious effect on sunlight, making the sky dark and grey.
'This reduction in exposure to sunlight can be really significant – especially between the ages of one and three years, when toddlers experience a huge period of growth and development and need essential nutrients to support this.
'With the poor weather we’ve been experiencing, it’s more important than ever that toddlers get enough vitamin D from their daily diet. They need foods such as oily fish, cereals, eggs and liver in their diets.'