It is a disease often associated with Victorian slums and thought to be all but eradicated from modern society.
But figures show that rickets is on the rise in Scotland, with a prevalence greater than that in England.
The number of cases has increased by 25 per cent from 354 in 2018 to 442 in 2022, which is almost the same as 482 in the whole of England. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde recorded 356 cases, with 83 in NHS Lanarkshire.
Rickets is caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, which is produced in the body through exposure to sunlight – something usually limited to the period between April and September in Scotland. Vitamin D occurs naturally in only a few foods, such as fatty fish, liver and egg yolks.
One in six people have permanently very low levels, especially those with darker skin, which processes sunlight less efficiently.
Rickets is caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, which is found naturally in only a few foods, including fatty fish, liver, and egg yolks
Helga Rhein, the recently retired Edinburgh GP, of the Scots Need Vitamin D campaign group, said: ‘How can this be in a modern, developed country?
‘There’s no point in blaming poverty – the blame lies with Scotland’s public health system. All we do is tick boxes. No effort is made to educate people about why vitamin D is so essential for so many areas of health, why deficiency is more common in Scotland and to actually hand out supplements. They are so cheap and readily available.
“You could say that rickets is as much a symptom of state failure as it is of vitamin D deficiency.”
Vitamin D helps build strong bones. The link between rickets and rickets was discovered a century ago and helped put an end to the relatively common sight of children – from both poor and wealthy backgrounds – growing up with crooked legs.
The condition is often associated with Victorian times, as it was widespread in industrial cities where smog blocked sunlight.
Dr. Chris Williams, from the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland, told the Sunday Times: ‘More needs to be done to protect people on low incomes from products which are of low nutritional value or are likely to lead to malnutrition if relied on instead of healthier alternatives.
“Vulnerable individuals and communities who lack access to fresh, nutritious food due to affordability or supply issues are at increased risk for rickets due to an inadequate diet.”
Vitamin D is produced in the body through exposure to sunlight, which is usually limited in Scotland between April and September
Consultant endocrinologist Dr Richard Quinton said: ‘The Scottish Government is advising vulnerable people to take vitamin D supplements, but there is no active program to promote the message in schools, nurseries, GP surgeries or community centers.
‘Kindergarten and primary school children in Scotland are routinely treated with sunscreen during the sunnier months, and these are known to block vitamin D photosynthesis.’
While parts of England enjoy more than 1,500 hours of sunshine a year, most of Scotland records less than 1,300. Children under the age of three, pregnant and breastfeeding women are eligible for free supplements.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government added: ‘We recognize the health benefits of maintaining adequate vitamin D levels and recommend that everyone should consider taking a 10mcg supplement daily, particularly during the winter months, to help keep bones and bones healthy. keep muscles healthy.’
WHAT IS RICKETS?
Rickets is the failure of children’s cartilage to mineralize, causing bones to bend out of shape.
The adult version – in which the bones themselves weaken – is known as osteomalacia.
Both are caused by the body not fixing calcium, a process that requires vitamin D. Children suffering from the debilitating condition — which can affect limbs and the spine and can be fatal if severe — was described by doctors in ancient Rome. But it was a common disease in Britain in the 17th century.
Medics were curious to note that victims tended to be from urban areas rather than rural areas, and rickets affected people of every social status, including royalty.
Sunshine and cod liver oil were seen to help beat the condition, but the reason why wasn’t understood until vitamin D was discovered in 1919 as part of the search for a cure.