Scourge of childhood rickets is back

A timely warning by Councillor Davy Walsh on the rise of Rickets in children was not heeded.

A timely warning by Councillor Davy Walsh on the rise of Rickets in children was not heeded.

Some years ago, I was working at a meeting of Waterford City Council when the Ferrybank-based Councillor Davy Walsh took everybody by surprise by announcing that Rickets disease in children had made a comeback.

At the time, not too many people took Cllr Walsh’s claim too seriously but, as it turns out, he was correct and his warning, for the most part, fell on deaf ears.

Rickets, caused by a lack of Vitamin D, creates brittle bones and deformities and was once associated with malnutrition caused by poverty in working class homes. It was a Victorian scourge that was still commonplace in this country in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Readers of a certain age will remember free milk and sticky buns being distributed to children in national schools.

In Britain, after the food shortages and rationing caused by World War II, the government also introduced cod liver oil tablets for all children. However, as nutrition improved over the years, rickets was all but eliminated in Ireland and Britain.

Sadly, the disease has made a dramatic comeback and its main cause appears to be poor nutrition.

Once upon a time, you could recognise poverty but not any more and the new poor of working class and lower middle-class families are cutting back on the quality and quantity of food they consume.

There’s a big fuss if you can’t meet your mortgage requirements but, if you pay the mortgage and eat less, nobody outside the family circle knows.

It should be stated that doctors believe one of the reasons for present day Vitamin D deficiency is that youngsters are not spending as much time out in the fresh air where they would obtain Vitamin D from the sun.

The medics believe that situation is caused by children spending too much time in front of computer and game screens and also by over protective parents who worry about too much exposure to sunlight because of the risk of skin cancer.

But, that as it may be, the main cause of the increase in Rickets in this country is almost certainly the lack of basic, healthy food.

At the time of writing, I cannot access specific figures for this country but, across the water in England, the National Health Service has confirmed that there were 833 hospital admissions for children suffering from Rickets last year. Ten years ago, the figure was 190.

Perhaps it’s time to bring back the milk and buns for all children in Irish primary schools.  That way, those in need will benefit without being stigmatised and the others will receive the bonus of a healthy snack.

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