The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has warned vitamin D deficiency - thought to affect at least half the UK's white population, up to 90% of the multi-ethnic population and a quarter of children - is resulting in higher incidences of diabetes, tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis and rickets; a bone disease uncommon in the UK since the 19th century.
Its figures suggest a four-fold increase in incidents of rickets over the last 15 years and it has urged for more awareness among health professionals and the public.
Prof Mitch Blair, officer for health promotion at the RCPCH, said: 'We know vitamin D deficiency is a growing problem - and localised research reveals startling high levels of vitamin deficiency amongst certain groups including children.
'People can only get a fraction (10 per cent) of their recommended daily amount of vitamin D through food and very little from sunlight. So getting out in the sun more or eating more oily fish isn't going to solve the problem. Lack of vitamin D is related to a plethora of serious illnesses in children and adults that could be prevented through relatively simple steps such as taking supplements.'
The RCPCH has launched a campaign calling for vitamin D supplements to be readily available at low-cost and high quality; an investigation into the pros and cons of further fortification of food with vitamin D; professional guidance for healthcare professionals: including standardised guidance on how to diagnose and treat diseases linked to vitamin D deficiency; a public awareness campaign with clear information for parents and families on the warning signs of vitamin D deficiency and how to prevent it; further research into the link between vitamin D deficiency and bone disease: there is currently a dearth of research in this area making high profile child protection cases difficult to resolve; and better surveillance: to monitor the prevalence and incidence of vitamin D deficiency across the population
Earlier this year, the Chief Medical Officer Dame Professor Sally Davies, recommended that all pregnant and breastfeeding women, children aged six months - five years old and people aged 65 and over should take vitamin D supplements.
During the first stage of the campaign the RCPCH plans to produce a series of leaflets for healthcare professionals highlighting the signs of vitamin D deficiency in patients set to be published in spring 2013.