Free vitamins plan for under-fives
All under-fives could get free vitamins under plans being considered by the Government.
At present, only low-income families qualify for vitamins on the NHS but rising fears about the number of children developing rickets - caused by a lack of vitamin D - has prompted a rethink.
England’s chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has asked the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to examine whether all children should receive drops or tablets containing vitamins A, C and D.
NHS recommendations are for all youngsters aged six months to five years to be given daily vitamin drops, but parents have to pay for them unless they are part of the free Healthy Start programme.
Evidence suggests take-up of the vitamins is low among poorer families but even children in better-off families may not be not getting enough.
NICE is likely to look at the cost-effectiveness of introducing free vitamins for children aged up to two, and for all youngsters up to five.
Experts are worried by rising cases of rickets, with 40% of children estimated to have vitamin D levels below the recommended amount.
The best source of vitamin D, which is essential for keeping bones and teeth healthy, is sun on the skin but a lack of exposure to sunlight and parents covering their children in sunscreen is having an impact.
Vitamin D occurs naturally in only a few foods, such as oily fish and eggs, and is added to some items such as fat spreads and breakfast cereals.
The NHS recommends babies and children aged under five should get seven to 8.5 micrograms of vitamin D every day.
Babies who drink at least 500ml of infant formula a day do not need vitamin drops as they are already added to the drink.
There are also worries over children not getting enough vitamin A, which is essential for strengthening the immune system, vision and maintaining healthy skin.
It is found in dairy, fortified fat spreads, carrots, sweet potatoes, swede, mangoes and dark green vegetables such as spinach, cabbage and broccoli.
Vitamin C is essential for boosting the immune system and helps the body absorb iron.
Good sources include oranges, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes and peppers.
Prof Davies said: “We know that many children, not just those in vulnerable groups, have vitamin deficiency.”
She said rickets was making a comeback, adding: “It’s appalling.”
She said: “We are offering these vitamins to vulnerable children and the take-up is low, but many children not in these communities need these vitamins too.”
She said a scheme in Birmingham to offer vitamin D supplements to all children means one in five now take the tablets.
The scheme has halved the number of cases of rickets and other vitamin D deficiency problems in the area.
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