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Lack of knowledge about vitamin D is still leaving the under-5s at risk, says research

09-Oct-13
Article By: Nina Hathway, News Editor

A report from the Feeding for Life Foundation (FfLF) has highlighted ongoing difficulties in combating the growing problem of vitamin D deficiency.

Insufficient vitamin D can lead to deficiency diseases such as rickets and hypocalcaemic seizures in young children and osteomalacia in adults. Vitamin D also has other roles in the body, such as activation of the body’s immune system to fight off serious infection.

Most of the vitamin D we need is manufactured in our skin on direct exposure to sunlight.

However, levels of sunlight in the UK are relatively low and may be insufficient to provide adequate vitamin D, particularly in those with darker skins, those who tend to cover their skin for cultural reasons and those who use excessive amounts of sunscreen.

This shortfall can be made up through diet and supplementation and health care and early years professionals are seen as having a key role to play in getting this message across to parents.

However despite the best efforts of medical bodies in recent years to raise public awareness of the dangers of vitamin D deficiency in children, limited resources and lack of nutritional know-how mean that this is not translating into better practice among health care professionals.

The report ‘Bridging the Gap’ surveyed 225 UK health care professionals, including midwives, health visitors and GPs, and found a number of significant barriers that are preventing better practice.

Some 82 per cent of respondents showed poor vitamin-related nutritional knowledge, 70 per cent agreed that there is a lack of practical guidance on how to implement government recommendations, 69 per cent believe they do not have enough training about the benefits of vitamin supplements and 81 per cent believe the greatest barrier to giving vitamin supplement drops is parents’ poor awareness. Adding to these issues is the limited availability of low cost Healthy Start vitamins in health clinics and children’s centres. A recent change in legislation, prevents the sale of these vitamins through any services commissioned by a local authority, clinical commissioning group or NHS commissioning body. Consequently, health visitors and early years practitioners are no longer able to sell the Healthy Start vitamins directly to parents who are not entitled to free supplements.

Professor Pinki Sahota, professor of Nutrition and Childhood Obesity and chair of the FfLF, said: “The report identifies significant barriers that still need to be overcome if we are going to improve the vitamin D levels in the under 5s.

“It is clear that frontline health care professionals need more support and improved knowledge, so they can talk with confidence to parents. Equally parents need more information about what vitamin D is, and why vitamin D is essential for their child’s health and development. The Feeding for Life Foundation has been creating tools and resources to improve HCP and EYP knowledge and confidence around the nutritional needs of the under-5s.” The FfLF is committed to increasing vitamin D awareness by supporting the dialogue between parents and the healthcare professionals who advise them, so that hopefully the gap between guidance and best practice can be bridged before it is too late.

For advice on vitamin D and the early years, visit www.feedingforlifefoundation.co.uk.

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