Professor Dame Sally Davies said the NHS should give out free vitamins for all under-fives.
Currently, under-fives from disadvantaged backgrounds are offered free vitamin A, C and D as part of the Healthy Start programme. But the chief medical officer wants this to be offered to all children.
“It’s not just about poverty,” Professor Davis told the Today Programme. She said that Vitamin D deficiency is a growing problem – up to 25% of children have it. Children lack this vitamin because of a poor diet and too little sunshine – either because they don’t spend much time outdoors or because when they do, they wear sunblock.
She said: “Children get very locked onto screens and it can be difficult to turf them out into the sunlight. But the sun in the winter doesn’t give you as much vitamin D so this is necessary.
“[The supplement] would cost pennies a day and would undoubtedly save money in the long run.”
Speaking to the Telegraph, Dr Sarah Jarvis, a GP in London, said: “Children just don’t spend as much time outside as they did in the past, and parents who have taken note of messages to protect children against skin cancer are sometimes too extreme with the sunscreen, so that children don’t get any exposure.”
A severe lack of vitamin D can cause rickets in children – something usually associated with the Victorian era. The bone-deforming disease was, at one time, all but wiped out, but now it’s back.
In the last 13 years, the number of rickets cases has increased dramatically, from 147 to 762.
NICE will examine whether all children aged six months to five years should be given supplements of vitamins A, C and D.
- Vitamin A: It strengthens the immune system and is good for the skin. It can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes and green, leafy vegetables.
- Vitamin D: It’s essential for both bone and teeth health and the best source is sunlight. But it can also be found in eggs, oily fish and breakfast cereals.
- Vitamin C: This boosts the immune system and helps the body absorb iron. It can be found in strawberries, citrus fruits and green, leafy vegetables.