A resurgence of rickets in children has highlighted vitamin D deficiency as a public health issue that needs to be addressed across the population, but would you recognise the symptoms?

This week Sasa Jovenic examines the health problems caused by vitamin D deficiency, why people become deficient and who is at risk.

We’ll also take you through the supplementation guidelines and the opportunities for continuing care.

If you say ‘rickets’ to someone it conjures up ideas of other supposedly old-fashioned diseases such as scurvy and polio; diseases most people don’t give a second thought to these days as they assume they’ve been eradicated from modern-day society thanks to better diet and vaccination programs.

But it’s this kind of complacency that has seen an increase in people with vitamin D deficiency – which carries with it a whole host of health problems including the bone-deforming rickets in children, and the adult equivalent, osteomalacia, which causes bone pain and tenderness.

In fact, vitamin D deficiency is more common than most people realise. According to the NHS, a 2007 survey estimated around 50 per cent of all adults have some degree of vitamin D deficiency, and in 2012 the chief medical officer for the United Kingdom wrote to GPs highlighting the issue of vitamin D deficiency in high-risk groups, which include pregnant women, children under five, and the elderly.

What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D has several important functions within the body, including regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate needed to keep bones and teeth healthy.

In humans, most of our vitamin D is made under the skin in reaction to summer sunlight (in this country, the winter sun is not strong enough), and it is also found in some foods, such as oily fish, eggs, fortified fat spreads, fortified breakfast cereals and some powdered milks.

In an ideal world, most people would be able to get all the vitamin D they need this way, but as Michael Stewart, Numark information pharmacist, points out: “Basically in this country there is not enough sunshine of sufficient strength and duration for anyone to make enough vitamin D, and it is also hard to get sufficient from the diet, which is why most people would benefit from a supplement, but especially all children under five, and women.”

Come back tomorrow for the second instalment of our vitamin D special where you can find out about the signs of deficiency.