The growing number of children who are suffering from vitamin D deficiencies could lead to a return of the 19th century disease rickets, doctors have warned
There has been a four-fold increase in the bone disease - which has been relatively uncommon in the UK since the 19th century - over the last 15 years, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said.
Poor intake of vitamin D is also resulting in higher incidences of diabetes, tuberculosis and multiple sclerosis, they said.
Doctors have called for widely available and low-cost supplements and the fortification of foods with vitamin D to stem the problem across the UK.
The RCPCH added that there needed to be a greater knowledge among healthcare professionals and better public awareness about vitamin D-related disease.
Professor Mitch Blair, officer for health promotion at the RCPCH, said: "We know vitamin D deficiency is a growing problem - and localised research reveals startlingly high levels of vitamin deficiency amongst certain groups including children.
"People can only get a fraction (10%) 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 said vitamin D deficiency was thought to affect a quarter of children across the UK.
Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Dame Sally Davies said: "Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are best placed to give advice about the importance of getting enough vitamin D. That's why earlier this year I and the other UK Chief Medical Officers wrote to healthcare professionals urging them to offer advice about vitamin D to people at risk of deficiency.
"The Department of Health has also made sure vitamin D supplements are available free to pregnant women and young children from low income families through our Healthy Start scheme. Local NHS organisations must make sure those eligible for Healthy Start get the supplements they're entitled to, and the department continues to work closely with the NHS on this."