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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 September 2006, 00:17 GMT 01:17 UK
Vitamin D call for Asian children
Vitamins (Science Photo Library/Charles Bach)
Vitamin D supplements are recommended for high-risk groups
All Asian children under the age of two should get vitamin D supplements, according to scientists.

A small snapshot study of vitamin D deficiency at the Burnley Health Care Trust revealed Asian children were particularly at risk.

The team said it was more cost effective to provide supplements than to treat problems caused by the deficiency, such as rickets.

The research was published in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood.

If you just treat the high risk population... it is cheaper to supplement everybody than to treat the consequences
Dr Christos Zipitis

The main source of vitamin D is through ultra-violet radiation in sunlight, although it can also be found in certain foods.

It is crucial for the absorption of calcium, which is key in the formation of healthy bones. Deficiencies can lead to rickets, poor tooth formation, stunted growth and general ill health.

People with darker skin are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiencies because increased pigmentation reduces the capacity of the skin to manufacture the vitamin from sunlight.

More cost effective

Scientists from Burnley General Hospital analysed the medical records of children suffering from vitamin D deficiency between 1994 and 2005 at the Burnley Health Care Trust in north-west England.

Between 1994 and 2005 they found 14 cases, thirteen of which were in Asian children.

According to Dr Christos Zipitis, lead author of the study and a paediatrician, the rate of deficiency in Asian children was one in 117 compared with one in 923 children overall.

He said as well as having increased skin pigmentation, Asian children often had diets low in vitamin D.

The team then analysed the cost of treatment for these 14 patients, covering the cost of medication, hospital care and follow up appointments. It averaged up to 2,505 per patient.

They then looked at the cost of vitamin D supplementation needed to prevent one case of deficiency in the whole population of children, based on their figures.

They did so based on guidelines by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA), which recommend varying levels of vitamin D over the first two years of a child's life. They found it be 47,534 per child.

But when they looked at the cost of preventing one case of deficiency in an Asian child, it came to 2,410.

Supplement use

Dr Zipitis said: "If you just treat the high risk population, which in our trust is the Asian population, it is cheaper to supplement everybody than to treat the consequences."

He said that in other trusts, children of Afro-Caribbean or African origin would be at high risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Dr Mary Hannon-Fletcher, from the School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Ulster, said: "The use of supplements must always be backed up by rigorous research and evidence that this will not result in toxicity.

"There are always problems with inter-individual differences in uptake, bioavailability and dietary and lifestyle factors that need to be taken into account, especially in this young population."




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