BRITISH kids are at risk of a rickets epidemic because they’re spending too much time indoors playing with gadgets, experts are warning.
The condition, which was common during the Victorian era, is coming back “at some speed” as youngsters spend less time in the sun.
Getty – Contributor Kids aren’t going outside enough and that’s putting them at risk of rickets
Rickets was a disease that was practically eradicated in the 1950s but cases have more than doubled in a decade.
Each year, around 450 kids are admitted to hospital with the disease.
And leading geneticist Steve Jones says that’s because kids aren’t getting enough of the sunshine nutrient vitamin D.
He said that vitamin D is “very important stuff”, which can help to tackle disease and strengthen the immune system.
“Children today spend an hour a day less outside than they did ten years ago,” Mr Jones told the Hay Festival.Smartphones and tablets to blame
“That’s the smartphone and the tablet situation.”
He said that Scottish kids in particular were spending less time outside than any other children in the world.
“Rickets is coming back and rickets is coming back at some speed … because of a shift in human behaviour which we never thought would happen.”
Not enough vitamin D
You can get vitamin D from the sun but also in foods such as oily fish, eggs, margarine and certain cereals.
Although it can affect any child, darker skinned kids are more at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
It’s easily treatable – children simply need to be given lots of calcium and vitamin D.
In fact, some families are eligible for free vitamin supplements from the government’s Healthy Start scheme – find out if you qualify for Healthy Start.
Despite never thinking that he’d take vitamin supplements, Mr Jones said that even he had resorted to taking vitamin D tablets.
“‘I do that because the evidence that the shortage of sunlight has drastic effects on health is overwhelming.
Scottish kids are most at risk
“It can be seen in Britain – men in Scotland still have a two-year less life expectancy than men in England and Wales. Scotland is still the sick man of Europe.”
It’s not just rickets that has become a problem.
Multiple sclerosis levels are also an issue and again, that could be down to a lack of sunshine.
He said that MS levels used to be highest in northern Canada and almost unheard of in tropical countries.
Again, Scotland has much higher levels than England.
“The Scots are the palest people in the world…and that’s because their entire body systems are crying out for vitamin D,” he said.
Vitamin D is beneficial in a number of different ways.
Symptoms of ricketsRickets causes a child’s bones to become soft and weak, which can lead to bone deformities.
The signs and symptoms of rickets can include:
pain – the bones affected by rickets can be sore and painful, so the child may be reluctant to walk or may tire easily; the child’s walk may look different (waddling)
skeletal deformities – thickening of the ankles, wrists and knees, bowed legs, soft skull bones and, rarely, bending of the spine
dental problems – including weak tooth enamel, delay in teeth coming through and increased risk of cavities
poor growth and development – if the skeleton doesn’t grow and develop properly, the child will be shorter than average
fragile bones – in severe cases, the bones become weaker and more prone to fractures
Some children with rickets may also have low levels of calcium in their blood.
This can make the symptoms of rickets worse and can also cause:
tingling in the hands and feet
If your child has any kinds of bone pain, delayed growth or muscle weakness, take them to your GP for a checkup.
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It can help us to fight off infectious disease as well as improve mood.
Mr Jones also said that “if you have a shortage you’re more likely to get kidney disease”.
“It is really, really important stuff.”
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