If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Health going backwards

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.

Computer-game obsessed children and cautious parents are contributing to a sharp increase in the cases of the illness.
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.

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.


  1. Cheers for link.

    Rickets, TB, FGM, honour killings - what 'progress' hath the progressives wrought?

  2. And kids leaving school will think they're still protected by cotton wool.

    Banned from playing conkers - their hand might get accidentally hit.

    Not allowed to wear goggles when swimming because the elastic strap might 'ping' when they're put on.

    Can't climb trees in case they fall.

    No running in the playground in case they slip.

    I'm afraid the Health & Safety Gestapo have bred a generation of risk-ignorant youngsters.

  3. Rather then risk-ignorant, I would prefer risk-averse. Life is full of risks, and occasionally bad things happen to you. Accepting this and working to reduce risk to an acceptable level is the key. Youngsters are being brought up to believe that risk is bad, and should be avoided at all costs (look at the hoo-hah about nuclear energy at the moment, and all that 'precautionary principle' stuff about GM crops). What they are failing to learn is that risk is dynamic and can be creative - it's in learning to balance risks against benefits that makes us alive rather than comatose. Without risk, life is nothing, because we would literally never do anything at all.

    In answer to Julia - none. None at all.

  4. From König Friedrich Wilhelm I (1713-1740), to Bismarck, to Hitler, Prussia and Germany went through many health reforms. The reason being the worry that "the population are not healthy enough to fight in a war".

    The same question arises. Where the HEL are the soldiers of the future to come from, when most of the recruits have rickets, and all of them are, because of "P.C" shit, scared to say boo to a goose?

  5. With rickets, flabby, unexercised, unwilling to take risks, and fully aware of all their "rights". Some army.

  6. Here is the inevitable policy document. I am intending to sue my old school for chronic pac-a-mac stress syndrome. Whenever it starts even spitting with rain I get damp yet rustly pvc flashbacks. "Pac-a-macs on, out in the playground". It only ever rained at school ... except when we weren't allowed to take off our blazers and the sicklier bods would faint from heat exhaustion.
    Apparently some middle-class children suffer from malnutrition caused by "muesli-scour", they are given so much fibre to eat that food doesn't stay in them long enough for it to be absorbed.


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