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Free vitamins for pregnant women and babies, in bid to eradicate rickets

26 June 2017

It’s summer and the sun is shining – but not only is that good news for people enjoying the great outdoors, it’s also good news for unborn babies.

Sunlight is one of the main sources of vitamin D, which pregnant women need throughout their pregnancies to decrease the chances of their babies developing rickets.

Unfortunately, though, many women do not get enough sunlight, or enough vitamin D in their diets. As a result, pregnant women in Sheffield are now being offered free vitamins throughout their pregnancy as part of a new campaign to reduce the number of cases of rickets in the city.

Greg Fell, Director of Public Health at Sheffield City Council, added: “I am pleased to support this important initiative, which I hope will cut cases of this serious but preventable condition.

“It is also important to address some of the reasons why so many of us have low vitamin D levels, which include increasing our time spent outdoors in the sunshine and ensuring we eat varied and balanced diets.”

A free eight-week supply of Healthy Start vitamins will also be available for all babies, as well as to women who are breastfeeding. This initiative is being introduced in Sheffield for the first time, but has already seen success in other areas of the country.

Dr Paul Arundel, Consultant in Children’s Bone Disease at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, said: “This is a really important initiative for Sheffield as rickets is an entirely preventable disease, but one which has unfortunately re-emerged in the city.

“Last year in Sheffield, several children were treated for symptoms of vitamin D deficiency – all of which could easily have been avoided.

“We know that vitamin D deficiency is common, so these children are likely to represent the tip of the iceberg.”

Rickets – a preventable disease, yet one that is on the rise – is characterised by bowed legs and delayed walking in young children. Children can develop it if they do not have enough vitamin D, which is needed for strong bones.

Most of our vitamin D is formed in the skin in response to sunlight. Some foods, especially oily fish, provide additional ways to obtain vitamin D. However, during the winter, the sun’s rays are not strong enough for vitamin D to be produced. This can be further complicated when people spend a lot of time indoors rather than outside, or where people have cultural reasons for keeping their skin covered.

Sunshine is good for our physical and emotional wellbeing, but we understand better nowadays that both too little and too much sunshine can have adverse health effects.

Healthy Start vitamins for women contain vitamin C, vitamin D and folic acid, while the vitamins for children include vitamins A, C and D.

Health visitors and GPs will also signpost children at high risk of rickets to their local children’s centre as they will be eligible for free Healthy Start vitamins until they are four years old.

Women can access the free vitamins by speaking to healthcare professionals at all stages of their pregnancy, or soon after giving birth.

Dr Margaret Ainger, GP at NHS Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Rickets is often considered a disease of the past – and that is exactly what it should be.

“We are urging all new and expectant mothers to speak to their midwife, GP, health visitor or children’s centre about getting their vitamins.”