22 February 2015

Guest Post // Rickets Resurgence

For ages now I've been trying to get my boyfriend, Matthew, to write up a blog post. He is full of ideas but generally has no time to actually write anything down because his Medicine Degree is so time consuming. We've found a nice compromise, today we're sharing a presentation he did on rickets but we've converted it so it is suitable for a blog post. It's very different to what I normally post, but maybe you'll find it interesting.


I have decided to talk about ‘Something that interests me’, medicine. Many medical stories get covered in the media every week but a topic I’d like to talk about is the disease, rickets. When I say ‘rickets’ what image comes to mind?

Generally considered a disease of the past, rickets is on the rise again. Rickets is a childhood disease where the bones become ‘softened’, giving the classical bow leg appearance. This is due to a deficiency in vitamin D, the so-called ‘sunshine vitamin’. Vitamin D can be made in our skin upon exposure to sunlight and is also found naturally in foods such as oily fish and egg yolk.

In the 19th century rickets was commonplace due to a diet lacking vitamin D, especially in the poorer communities, and lack of sunshine due to smog in the cities, thanks to the industrial revolution. However, by the early-to-mid 20th century rickets was on the decline thanks to the fortification of common foods with vitamin D such as milk, margarine, and cereals. So, why is it coming back?

In recent years there has been aggressive public health campaigning about skin cancers, and the vast majority of people will now use sun screen on their children when the sun is out. Whilst this is without doubt a fantastic societal shift in terms of preventing skin cancer, sun screens block out the type of UV rays in sunshine that help produce vitamin D in the skin, effectively removing the greatest source of vitamin D during late spring/summer/early autumn months.

Furthermore, living up north brings an increased risk of lacking vitamin D due to the scarcity of good going sunshine for most of the year. Another factor which has received a lot of attention is another societal shift; that of what kids are doing when they aren’t at school. Many more children are staying indoors, watching television or playing on computers/tablets/phones, when merely decades ago they would have been out and about playing in parks and streets. This again restricts the amount of sunshine they are exposed to, reducing the amount of vitamin D they are making.

And finally, the issue of poor diet is rearing its head again. Many families that are struggling find that healthy eating is simply not affordable and so turn to cheaper alternatives which lack, amongst other things, vitamin D.

Rickets can be a debilitating disease with limb deformity and fractures, and one that is so easily remedied with only 15 minutes sun exposure on the hands and face a few times a week, eating right or supplementing with vitamin D that it should not be something we have to see commonly again.


Matthew is currently in his 4th year at Newcastle University undergoing a placement in Medical Education. Hopefully he'll find time to write another post for North East Nerd in the near future.

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