Sunday, November 14, 2010

Middle class children in Britain suffering rickets

I think that this is another case of the dog that didn't bark. Use of the term "middle class" tends to suggest "white", but from my reading elsewhere the affected children in the South are mainly black, brown and Middle Eastern. Many brown (subcontinental) families would be middle class. It is of course white skin that is best at converting sunlight into vitamin D.

Nonetheless, the official British obsession with suncream is amusing. Britons get so little sun that one wonders why they bother. It is certainly another case of wrongheaded official advice. In Britain, the benefit of getting vitamin D from the sun surely outweighs the risk of sun damage to the skin. Melanoma is so rare in Britain that British doctors often don't recognize it when they see it. A quite gross case in point here

However you look at it, however, a resurgence of rickets is a case of gross public health failure. It was cured in Britain around the time of WWII by adding Vitamin D to margarine. And in America, vitamin D is often added to milk. With the explosion of the health bureaucracy in recent years, one would have expected public health measures such as those I have just mentioned to be firmly in place. Subcontinental (e.g. Indian) families could be assisted by adding vitamin D to ghee, their usual (butter-derived) cooking oil. Just another example of bureaucratic failure, I guess

Middle class children in the south of England are suffering from the '17th century disease' rickets as parents cover them in sunscreen and limit time outside in the sunshine, a leading doctor has warned. The disease, caused by low levels of vitamin D generated in the body from sunshine and certain foods, had died out around 80 years ago but is now coming back.

Cases of rickets in children have occurred in northern England and Scotland where there are fewer months of the year with sufficient sunshine to obtain enough vitamin D but now doctors are seeing it on the South coast as well.

It is thought extensive use of sunscreen, children playing more time on computer games and TV rather than playing outside and a poor diet are to blame.

Professor Nicholas Clarke, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital and professor of paediatric orthopaedic surgery at the University of Southampton, said: "The return of rickets in northern parts of the UK came as a surprise despite the colder climate and lower levels of sunshine in the north, but what has developed in Southampton is quite astonishing."

Children from all backgrounds are being affected now and the disease is not limited to the poor as it was in Victorian times.

He added: “In my 22 years at Southampton General Hospital, this is a completely new occurrence in the south that has evolved over the last 12 to 24 months and we are seeing cases across the board, from areas of deprivation up to the middle classes, so there is a real need to get national attention focused on the dangers this presents.”

Professor Clarke says he and colleague Dr Justin Davies, a consultant paediatric endocrinologist, have checked over 200 children for bone problems and more than 20 per cent of them have significant deficiencies. “A lot of the children we’ve seen have got low vitamin D and require treatment,” he said.

“This is almost certainly a combination of the modern lifestyle, which involves a lack of exposure to sunlight, but also covering up in sunshine, and we’re seeing cases that are very reminiscent of 17th century England.”

He added: “We are facing the daunting prospect of an area like Southampton, where it is high income, middle class and leafy in its surroundings, seeing increasing numbers of children with rickets, which would have been inconceivable only a year or so ago.”

Professor Clarke says vitamin D supplements should be more widely adopted to halt the rise in cases. Vitamin D is found in oily fish and eggs and margarine, cereals and milk can be fortified with it. The vitamin is vital for the absorption of calcium needed for strong bones and teeth.


The lunchbox police: British school inspectors snooping on children's snacks and rating schools badly if they are unhealthy

Ofsted inspectors are snooping in children’s lunchboxes and marking schools down if they find crisps and chocolate, it emerged yesterday. Parents expressed amazement that if packed lunches are judged too unhealthy, schools could lose marks under the ‘healthy lifestyles’ section of the inspection, which feeds into their overall grade.

Critics said the checks were ‘interfering’ and ‘insulting’ and urged Ofsted to concentrate on judging teaching quality and discipline instead.

The practice emerged in inspectors’ notes on a random sample of five primary schools, which were disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. Notes on three of the five schools contained comments on the contents of lunchboxes, including ‘most have fruit but many have crisps, also fruit squash, and processed sausage’ and ‘very little “bad” food – no evidence of crisps and chocolate’.

In the two other schools, inspectors stopped short of rifling through lunchboxes and instead interviewed pupils about their eating habits.

Margaret Morrissey, founder of the lobby group Parents Outloud and a former lay Ofsted inspector, condemned the lunchbox checks as ‘insulting to parents’. ‘Inspectors spend little enough time in schools – they ought to have better things to do than going through five-year-olds’ lunchboxes,’ she said. ‘We can say to parents what we believe to be healthy for their children but ultimately it is entirely up to them what they give their children for lunch.’

Ofsted rated St Cyprian’s Greek Orthodox Primary School in Croydon, South London, as ‘good’ overall – the second highest grading on a four-point scale. But it criticised the children’s lunchboxes for containing crisps and processed sausage.

Kate Magliocco, the school’s head, said: ‘We don’t operate lunchbox policing, although I know some schools do, banning squash and chocolate biscuits.’

Education Secretary Michael Gove is expected shortly to outline plans to tear up more than 20 Ofsted inspection targets which he fears are distracting staff from their core task of raising standards.

Schools will instead be judged against four key benchmarks – quality of teaching, effectiveness of leadership, pupils’ behaviour and safety, and pupils’ achievement.

A spokesman for the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘Parents already have enough bossy interference from the Government telling them what to feed their children. ‘The last thing they need is school inspectors snooping through lunchboxes.’

An Ofsted spokesman said: ‘Ofsted does not routinely check the contents of school lunchboxes and there is no question that a school would be marked down simply because of their contents.

‘But inspectors are required to make judgments on each of the Every Child Matters outcomes, including the extent to which pupils adopt healthy lifestyles.’


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