Britain faces an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency- which can cause rickets and is linked to cancer and other diseases because of the poor summer weather, a leading expert has warned.Prof Norman Ratcliffe, from Swansea University, said the dull summer will lead to high levels of deficiency in the sunshine vitamin.
Other experts said vitamin D deficiency was a ‘major public health concern’ and Britain was heading back to the 1920s when large numbers of children suffered bone pain and bowed legs from the effects of rickets.
The combination of a 21st Century childhood of not playing outside, being driven to school and constantly wearing high factor sunscreen will be compounded by the poor weather this summer, they said.
Most doctors have yet to ‘wake-up’ to the problem, it was argued.
Prof Ratcliffe said that because 2012 was one of the dullest summers on record, vitamin D stores have not been replenished in time for winter, when light levels in most of the UK are insufficient to make vitamin D.
Figures from the Met Office show that hours of sunshine in the summer of 2012 were 18 per cent lower than the average over the last 30 years and lower than at least any of the last ten summers.
Prof Ratcliffe said parts of northern England recorded sunshine hours in summer similar to late winter.
He said: “Unfortunately, the dull summer of 2012 will probably result in a record number of people with vitamin D deficiency.
“The situation in 2012 is probably much more serious than normal with the dull summer leading to even more people with vitamin D deficiency.
“This deficiency may be present almost continuously throughout 2012, commencing during the summer months rather than, as in previous years, in the winter and spring.
“Thus, vitamin D inadequacy may stretch over much of the period from June 2012 until the spring/summer of 2013.
“The effects of low vitamin D levels in the body are very serious as adequate levels may be necessary to prevent common cancers, heart and autoimmune diseases, rickets, osteomalacia (bone pain and muscle weakness), diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and depression.”
He said widespread fortification of foods with vitamin D and use of supplements was the only way to combat the problem, however pregnant women are not routinely informed that they should be taking vitamin D and vitamins for children under the Healthy Start programme are not promoted, Prof Clarke said.
Pregnant women, children under five, over 65s and people with dark skin are particularly vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency.
The vitamin is present in some foods but most is made by the body when exposed to sunlight and stored.
Earlier this year Prof Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, highlighted the problem and said up to one in four people have low levels of vitamin D.
She said: “A significant proportion of people in the UK probably have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood.
“People at risk of vitamin D deficiency, including pregnant women and children under five, are already advised to take daily supplements.
“Our experts are clear – low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of poor bone health, including rickets in young children.”