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A leading doctor has warned that the “17th Century disease” rickets has returned and is now affecting middle class children in the UK.

Extensive use of sunscreen, more time spent on computer games and TV, and a poor diet are to blame

Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor of The Telegraph, explained that while the disease, caused by low levels of Vitamin D generated in the body from sunshine and certain foods, had died out around 80 years ago, it is now coming back: “Cases of rickets in children have occurred in Northern England and Scotland where there are fewer months of the year with sufficient sunshine to obtain enough Vitamin D but now doctors are seeing it on the South coast as well. It is thought extensive use of sunscreen, children playing more time on computer games and TV rather than playing outside and a poor diet are to blame.”

Professor Nicholas Clarke, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital and Professor of Paediatric Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Southampton, said: “In my 22 years at Southampton General Hospital, this is a completely new occurrence in the South that has evolved over the last 12 to 24 months and we are seeing cases across the board, from areas of deprivation up to the middle classes, so there is a real need to get national attention focused on the dangers this presents.”

Professor Clarke checked more than 200 children for bone problems and more than 20 per cent showed signs of deficiencies: “A lot of the children we’ve seen have got low Vitamin D and require treatment,” he said.

The BBC also reported on Professor Clarke’s advice that Vitamin D supplements should be more widely adopted to halt the rise in cases. Vitamin D is found in oily fish and eggs, and margarine, cereals and milk can be fortified with it. Since the 1940s, margarines sold in the UK have been fortified with Vitamin D.

The vitamin is vital for the absorption of calcium needed for strong bones and teeth. Sunlight helps the body synthesise Vitamin D.

“A lot of the children we’ve seen have got low Vitamin D and require treatment”

The BBC reported that the government was due to review the evidence, including options to improve its intake: “The government will consider the recommendations by the committee carefully,” said a government spokesperson.

Read our Upshot article on computer use