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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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Readers' comments (6)

  • What has not been made clear is the demographics of the re-emergence of rickets, it is all very well saying that it is on the increase but it is meaningless unless the population that is affected is identified.
    Are the figures worse because of the ethnic mix that we have? It is known that vitamin D production is reduced in non-white skinned people.

    Part of the problem is that children have SP20 sun cream applied during the summer, when 20 minutes of exposure to early morning sunshine will produce enough vitamin D for the day. Nurseries have to stop their insistence that every child has sun cream applied before they arrive.
    Margarine used to have vitamins A & D added to match the levels in butter.
    No-one in this country should need vitamin D supplements. It is nothing to do with our geographical position, what happens in Sweden, Finland or other countries that have shorter days during the winter than we do? What about in the rest of Europe?

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  • We need safe play outdoors, that I enjoyed, and get kids/teenagers out of their bedrooms on PCs, etc....
    Take on board the comments above too.

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  • Computer tablets and not Vitamin tablets are the answer!

    if Hunt can afford to hand out iPads to the elderly as an antidote to loneliness then he can afford to hand out computer tabs with a sunscreen so they can be read out of doors to the under fives!!!!!

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  • The trouble is so many parents refuse to take the NHS advice on vitamins on board. I have been giving them to my little one since he finished drinking formula, but the breast feeding mums I know insist that breast milk is such a magic potion that their children don't need vitamin supplements. Try explaining about Vit D to them and they still insist their breastmilk is full of it! There is a thread about this subject on the Netmums forum at the moment and again parents refusing to believe their kids could ever be Vit D deficient.

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  • Tto get vit D from the sun, it has to be without sunscreen (for a safe amount of time, obviously). At nearly 63, when do I get my ipad?

    Seriously though, ipads to the elderly to combat loneliness. There I such a difference between loneliness and being lonely. I don't think they are the answer.

    Make the streets safe, so that kids can play outdoors, or encourage parents to play with their kids in the garden or in the park. Double whammy, decrease obesity too, and subsequent morbidity in their later life.

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  • Anonymous | 26-Oct-2013 1:03 am

    kill two birds with one stone and send the elderly out in the streets with the kids and then they won't need the iPads! save the taxpayers money too.

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