Back in the 1990s, a dramatic uptick in the number of children in the UK being hospitalized for rickets first got noticed. Rickets is a devastating bone disease most commonly caused by a deficiency in vitamin D, calcium or both. Rickets can also be caused by extreme phosphate deficiency. In hereditary rickets, which is passed along through families, the kidneys are unable to hold onto phosphate. Other conditions affecting nutrient absorption can contribute to the onset of rickets, as well.
As Vitamin D Council explains, rickets causes the bones to become soft and weak, which often develop a curved or bowed shape. The primary symptoms of rickets are fragile bones, a misshapen or deformed skeleton, pain, and poor growth and development. At the earliest, the condition may be diagnosed at three months of age. Diagnosis of rickets may occur later in early childhood, as well, with children reaching up to two years old.
With the incidence of rickets on the rise across the pond, it comes as no surprise that researchers have been wracking their brains to find a cause. While many different theories have been explored, scientists at the University of Toronto believe that they have found an answer to this grave problem.
To investigate the potential impact of climate on rickets incidence, Haris Majeed, a master’s student of medical imaging at University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine, teamed up with his former thesis supervisor, Kent (G.W.K.) Moore, who is an associate professor in the department of physics in the Faculty of Arts & Science.
Majeed hypothesized that decreasing amounts of sunlight, thanks to an increase in cloud cover, may have been the culprit behind the United Kingdom's growing rickets problem. And as a press release from the University of Toronto reports:
They found that median incidences of rickets, which had been declining since the 1960s, almost doubled between 1997 and 2011, going from 0.56 cases per 100,000 British children to 1.01 cases. In the U.K., health experts have determined that six hours a month of sunshine is needed to produce enough vitamin D in people’s skin. But since the mid-1990s, increasing cloud cover has deprived the islands of about four hours of sunshine per month in the summer. Since the mid-1990s, the U.K. has received only an average of 183 hours of sunshine per summer month.
Majeed and his team found that as rickets incidence went up over the years, the amount of sunshine in the UK was actually declining. Given that obtaining adequate amounts of sunlight is perhaps one of the best ways to get your much-needed vitamin D, it makes perfect sense that the decreasing amount of sun in the UK are contributing to the rise of rickets.
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