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Keeping your child safe from rickets

Health By Derrick Oluoch

On Friday during the daily COVID-19 updates by the Ministry of Health, Dr. Mercy Mwangangi, the Health Cabinet Assistant Secretary (CAS) announced that among the 11 lives lost to COVID -19 was a child with rickets.

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This uncommon case has raised concerns about children being confined indoors during this pandemic. Rickets is caused by Vitamin D deficiency, mostly a result of lack of exposure to sunlight as well as malnutrition.

What is rickets?

Rickets is a disease of childhood and it occurs due to deficient mineralization at the growth plates of long bones.

Vitamin D promotes the body’s absorption of calcium and phosphorous and prolonged lack of vitamin D makes it difficult to maintain proper calcium and phosphorous levels in the bones. In turn, this can cause rickets.

Common symptoms of rickets includes delayed growth, bow-legs, weakness and pain in the spine, pelvis and legs. A child with rickets may have:

  • Legs that are abnormally shaped. They can bow-legs or knock-knees.
  • They may have swelling at the wrists, knees and ankles.
  • Late teething and other problems with tooth enamel
  • Late closure of the fontanelle – the soft part on the baby’s head
  • Poor growth
  • Late crawling and walking
  • Bone fractures after minor falls
  • Children with rickets can also be grumpy and irritable as their bones are sore

Treatment may entail medication, possibly surgery or adding vitamin D or calcium to the diet.

Rickets is caused by Vitamin D deficiency (Shutterstock)

Eve spoke to Adelaide Nekesa, a nutritionist at Bungoma County Referral Hospital, about some of the foods and lifestyle habits that can help prevent rickets as well as how parents can keep their children safe from the disease:

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Since rickets is mostly caused by a lack of vitamin D or calcium – essentials in the development of strong and healthy bones – in a child’s diet, Nekesa explains that: “parents need to give their babies sunlight exposure at least daily. Sunlight provides the skin with the energy to produce vitamin D. We get most of our vitamin D this way.”

Other than sunlight, Nekesa suggests foods rich in calcium and vitamin D especially for babies below years as this is the development stage. There are only few foods that naturally contain recommendable of vitamin D. However, the nutrient is often added to some staple food through fortification. She recommends:

Dairy products: You can add vitamin-D-fortified foods to your child’s diet particularly dairy milk

Eggs: Egg yolks are also a good source of vitamin D and you can consider adding them to your child’s diet.

Fish and cod liver oil: Fish, particularly fatty fish, are a rich source of vitamin D, and they are also rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Other than spending time in the sun and giving them foods rich in vitamin D, mothers can also prevent risks of rickets in their babies during pregnancy. Mothers can ensure they have good vitamin D levels during pregnancy by taking vitamin D supplements.

Also, infants can be put on vitamin D supplements from birth so as to ensure they have the right levels of vitamin D.

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