England's chief medical officer has said people should feel "profoundly ashamed of the very worrying picture of children's health in the UK".
In her annual report, Dame Sally Davies writes that more needs to be done to give children a good start with their health as the UK "lags behind other European countries".
Among the key recommendations within 'Our Children Deserve Better, Prevention Pays' is the suggestion that all children should be offered vitamin supplements to safeguard their health.
Currently the NHS offers free vitamins A, C and D to all children under five from low-income families despite figures suggesting that up to 25% of children are vitamin D deficient, leading to a rise in rickets cases. The CMO believes extending the scheme would protect more children and save money.
"Vitamin D deficiency is not just about poverty," added Dame Davies. "Children with developmental issues due to being born prematurely, those from ethnic minorities as well as children being "covered up" to protect them from the sun are all missing out on the benefits too,
"Children get very locked on to screens and it can be difficult to turf them out into the sunlight. But the sun in the winter doesn't give you as much vitamin D so this is necessary. This would cost pennies a day and would undoubtedly save money in the long run."
She has asked the medicines watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), to examine the cost-effectiveness of offering vitamins A, C and D to all children under five.
Wake-up call to society
Elsewhere in her report, Dame Davies called for a survey of young people's mental health, amid concerns that only 25% of children with clinical mental health disorders receive specialist help within three years.
She hopes her report will act as a "wake-up call" to society on the importance of the interplay between health, social environment, emotional environment and education.
Other key findings included:
- Nearly 27% of UK children are either in or at serious risk of being in poverty, compared with just 16% in the Netherlands
- The long-term societal cost of childhood obesity is estimated to be as high as £700m a year
- 75% of lifetime mental health disorders start before 18 years of age, with the peak onset of most conditions being from eight to 15 years
- About 10% of adolescents are suffering from a mental health problem at any one time
Alongside the enhanced vitamin programme, Dame Davies also recommended:
- a named GP for every child with long-term conditions
- a new national children's week to celebrate children and young people
- a regular survey on mental health among children and young people, including comparisons with other developed countries
To read the report in full visit: www.gov.uk/government/news/chief-medical-officer-prevention-pays-our-children-deserve-better