Improvements in children’s nutrition had all but wiped the illness out, but rates have started to rise again in the last decade.
Reasons for this increase in the number of sufferers include parents’ increasing fear of skin cancer resulting in them smothering their children in sun cream, thus reducing their intake of the vital vitamin D. Today’s children also spend less time playing outdoors with many favouring television and video games.
In addition to this fewer children are taking cod liver oil capsules, which are a rich source of Vitamin D, to supplement their diets.
Gillian Killiner, of the British Dietetic Association, said: ‘We have taken it for granted that skin cancer is the big one and overlooked the Vitamin D side.
‘Children are covered up with sunblock, t-shirts and hats, and that can be important – but perhaps we’ve pushed it too far.
‘We don’t have a lot of sun in this country, and in winter you are likely to be lacking in Vitamin D.
‘If you haven’t built enough up over summer, that’s going to be a certainty.’
She added that children are eating smaller amounts of fish and eggs than in the past, so they get less Vitamin D in their food.
‘It’s to do with the way we eat, obesity, and the lack of spending time out and about. In addition, more children are now overweight and that can reduce their ability to absorb Vitamin D,’ she said.
She added that black and Asian children were more at risk of rickets because it takes darker skins longer to absorb Vitamin D. ‘This effect can be exacerbated if they have covered up for cultural reasons,’ she said.
Figures on the number of patients admitted to hospital with rickets were revealed following a parliamentary question. They showed that in 1997/98, 147 people ended up in hospital with a primary or secondary diagnosis of rickets. By 2003/04, the total had more than doubled to 329. Within five years, the number had more than doubled again to 723.
Overall, between 1997/98 and 2010/11, the number of rickets sufferers increased more than fivefold from 147 to 762.
While the figures did not specify ages, experts say the vast majority are children, as Vitamin D deficiency manifests itself as rickets in the young and osteoporosis in adults.