When I was growing up in Leeds, it was common to see working-class elderly people with a common set of physical characteristics: usually small in stature, with legs that bowed out at the knee, giving a strange rolling gait. I can remember asking my mother why these people were like that, and her reply was that they were probably from a poor family, and were undernourished as a child. Of course, what I was seeing were the effects of rickets: a poor diet, and one deficient in vitamin D.
It is said that rickets was eliminated from the UK by the end of the 19th Century, as a result of better education, reduced poverty and better diet. As the people I am talking about were probably born in the period 1880 to 1900, that sounds about right. I certainly never saw middle-aged or young people with the condition. And now, via JuliaM, I read this:
CHILDHOOD rickets - the "bandy-leg" disease that was eradicated last century - is making a comeback in Scotland's cities, experts warned yesterday.Just like with the abandonment of the space programme and the decommissioning of Concorde, it seems we are going backwards. Rickets, in the UK, in 2011? Words fail me.
Computer-game obsessed children and cautious parents are contributing to a sharp increase in the cases of the illness.
Put simply, Vitamin D allows the absorbtion of calcium in the gut, and calcium is essential for the development of strong bones in children. A lack of dietary calcium leads to soft bones, and the deformities described above, which are life-long. Sunlight is necessary to turn Vitamin D from an inactive to an active state. So a diet poor in calcium (milk and cheese), or in Vitamin D (butter, eggs, oily fish), and/or a childhood spent out of direct sunlight, can lead to this distressing condition.
So what is going wrong? For all our wealth, many people's diets are good in quantity but poor in quality. Perhaps this is a major factor; I am not qualified to say. But I do know that children have never played outside less and seen less natural sunshine than they do today. Over-cautious parents (made fearful by the constant scaremongering of the media) keep their children indoors for fear of paedophiles - a massively exaggerated risk - or a traffic accident. Those that are allowed outside are slathered in so much Factor 50, or covered up with hats and baggy clothing, that their skins never see the sun. Add the huge pull of computer games and the value of the TV as babyminder, and we are bringing up a generation of children who don't go outside, and are afraid of a purely natural phenomenon, sunshine.
Funny, that. We spend tens of thousands of years standing out in the buff without a stitch to call our own, and yet just a few years later, taking your t-shirt off on a warm day in April will give you cancer.
And, for 'health reasons', children are starting fall victim to a disease of malnutrition which we thought we had eradicated.
Sunshine is a natural product, like vegetables and fruit. We evolved with it, and it is necessary for our health. Obviously, too much of anything is bad, and the consequences of too much sunshine are unpleasant. But then eating 20 kg of lettuce a day wouldn't do you much good either, and no-one is saying that lettuce is a health hazard.
Looks like your Gran was right: eat proper food, get plenty of fresh air and exercise, enjoy the sunshine and get enough sleep.
Then you'll be fine.