Increased knowledge among health care professionals, readily available and inexpensive vitamin D supplements, more public awareness, and fortification of foods are several steps required to address the growing prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the UK population, according to the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH).

Vitamin D deficiency is believed to affect almost half of the UK’s Caucasian population, up to 90 percent of the multi-ethnic population and a quarter of children. Pediatricians warn that it is causing a higher incidence of tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, rickets, and diabetes.

Research from January of this year warned that rickets are making a comeback in the UK and that doctors are concerned about rising vitamin D deficiency levels.

Current research says there has been a four-fold rise in incidents of rickets, a bone disease extremely rare in the UK since the 19th century. Vitamin D deficiency is a critical issue among kids, adolescents, and pregnant women.

Professor Mitch Blair, Officer for Health Promotion at the RCPCH, said:

“We know vitamin D deficiency is a growing problem and localized research reveals startling high levels of vitamin deficiency amongst certain groups including children. People can only get a fraction (10%) of their recommended daily amount of vitamin D through food and very little from sunlight. So getting out in the sun more or eating more oily fish isn’t going to solve the problem. Lack of vitamin D is related to a plethora of serious illnesses in children and adults that could be prevented through relatively simple steps such as taking supplements.”

Today the RCPCH launched their campaign with the following objectives:

  • Vitamin D supplements widely available, cheap, and high quality.
  • Exploration into the pros and cons of further fortification of food with vitamin D.
  • Guidelines for healthcare professionals, including how to treat and diagnose diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency.
  • A public awareness program: clear information for parents and families on the signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency and ways to prevent it.
  • Future research focusing on the connection between bone disease and vitamin D deficiency; currently a lack of research in this area makes high profile child protection cases hard to solve.
  • Better observations: to watch the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency across the population.

In the beginning of this year, the Chief Medical Officer suggested that all pregnant and breastfeeding women, people over the age of 65, and kids between the ages of 6 months and five years old should take vitamin D supplements.

Professor Blair continued:

“The Government’s “Healthy Start” program provides vitamins free to low income families and “at risk” groups. But these vitamins appear to be in short supply and uptake is low. Ensuring people are aware that they’re available is crucial and there is some evidence to suggest we need to make these supplements more readily available for the wider population, which is already happening in some countries”

They also point out it is imperative that all healthcare professionals have the ability to pinpoint the signs of vitamin D deficiency in children such as poor growth, aches and pains, muscle weakness, and seizures, and treat them efficiently.

First, the campaign will make a series of brochures for pediatricians and other healthcare professionals featuring the signs of vitamin D deficiency in patients.

The UK is also exploring further into proposals for vitamin D fortification of food and drink, as is done in the United States, Finland, and Canada.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald