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Global Health Watch: Rickets showing up in some British children

January 19, 2011|By Janet Stobart, Los Angeles Times

Rickets, a bone disease caused by vitamin D deficiency and which used to stalk the poverty-stricken slums of 19th century England, has reappeared in modern Britain.

In the southern port city of Southampton, Tyler Atrill, 12, an active girl who always played outside in one of the sunniest areas of Britain, was diagnosed with rickets last November, the Telegraph reported this week. Tyler's mother Lisa, who is a nurse, told the newspaper that her daughter had been suffering severe leg pains for three years and was finally diagnosed with a disease thought to have disappeared from Britain in the 1920s.

Tyler is one of more than 40 children treated for rickets in the last year by Southampton General Hospital. Dr. Nicholas Clarke, an orthopedic surgeon from the hospital, said the phenomenon was "quite astonishing. We are seeing cases across the board, from areas of deprivation to the middle classes. ... This is almost certainly a combination of the modern lifestyle, which involves a lack of exposure to sunlight and covering up in sunshine."

Lisa Atrill said she covered her children in sunscreen whenever they went out in bright sunshine.

There are no official figures, but doctors around the country say a number of cases have sprung up in recent years. Last year the British Medical Journal published findings of the spread of the disease in the United Kingdom, quoting a survey showing "more than 50% of the adult population have insufficient levels of vitamin D and that 16% have severe deficiency during winter and spring.”

Particularly at risk are people in northern England and Scotland, where statistics of other bone-related diseases, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis are higher than in England.

In September, the Scottish government launched a campaign advising people to take vitamin D supplements to make up for the lack of sunshine.

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