January 23, 2010

Kids: Go Outside Or Get Rickets!

The growing number of hours children now spend indoors surfing the Web, watching television or playing video games may be linked to a resurgence of rickets, according to a new study published in the current issue of the British Medical Journal.

Rickets is caused by chronic vitamin D deficiencies, which can result after long periods without natural sunlight or an inadequate diet.

Children suffering from the bone-bending disease can develop painful and deformed bow-legs that do not properly grow. 

The researchers said the condition is becoming "disconcertingly common" among British children.

The research, which was focused on British children, likely applies to children throughout other industrialized nations as well, the scientists said.

"Kids tend to stay indoors more these days and play on their computers instead of enjoying the fresh air," said Professor Simon Pearce of Newcastle University in England, the study's lead author.

"This means their vitamin D levels are worse than in previous years."

Excessive time spent indoors in front of a computer or television has also been associated with increased obesity rates. 

Professor Pearce and his colleague Tim Cheetham called for milk and other food products to be supplemented with vitamin D.

It is not only children who suffer with vitamin D deficiency.  Indeed, half of all adults in Britain, particularly in the northern part of the country, are Vitamin D deficient during the spring and winter months, with nearly 20 percent having severe deficiency.

The lack of adequate vitamin D has also been linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and a soft-bone condition known as osteomalacia.

Rickets can be easily avoided through exposure to sunlight and a proper diet with foods rich in vitamin D, including oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring.  Supplemented milk can provide a reliable supply of vitamin D.

"Fifty years ago, many children would have been given regular doses of cod liver oil, but this practice has all but died out," said Cheetham.

The study's authors called for new laws that would recommend the addition of vitamin D to milk and other food products.


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