Small children need vitamin D to keep their bones strong and healthy, yet they rarely get the amount of Vitamin D they need from the food they're eating.
If newspapers and online stories are to be believed, 1 in every 4 toddlers don't actually get enough Vitamin D and as a consequence rickets is once again on the rise. Doctors throughout England have been reminded, by the chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies, that children under five need supplements. Many health professionals didn't know this until recently.
Without vitamin D, bones become soft and bend in the middle. This results in the child having the typical rickets appearance of bow legs. Vitamin D deficiency can cause fatigue, muscle weakness and a higeher than usual risk of infections because of damage to cells in the immune system, in particular TB.
So why should a healthy child, eating a varied diet, need supplements?
More than 90% of vitamin D comes from uvB rays hitting the skin and converting a type of cholesterol into vitamin D. If you have fair skin you need to be outside for only 13 minutes between 10am and 3pm, around two to three times a week in summer, to get enough Ã¢Â€Â“ any longer and sunscreen will be needed. Obviously if you have darker skin, you need at least twice as much sun.
The problem with expecting a child to get all the vitamin D he/she needs from food is that most children aren't particularly keen on oily fish, mushrooms and egg yolks. Colin Michie of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health believes ALL Under 5s need Vitamin D supplements: "The diet of the average under-five does not provide enough," he says. They "don't run around and play in the sunshine. Our lifestyles are putting us in the position where we have to buy supplements."
The health watchdog Nice has issued guidelines saying children under five should have vitamin D supplements.