ONE in five British Asian children suffers from anaemia and a vitamin deficiency which can cause rickets, according to new research into child nutrition.
Every child with low iron levels should be given vitamin supplements and screened for rickets, a bone deformation caused by lack of vitamin D, warn academics from the Institute of Child Health in London.
Sunlight is an essential component in the synthesis of vitamin D but dark skins create the vitamin less readily than fair skins. Yet diet is thought to be a more significant cause of the Asian children's deficiency as African-Caribbean children do not show a great lack.
The research found a clear link between children with low iron levels and lack of vitamin D. Pakistani children were the worst affected although their community has been in Britain longer than their Indian and Bangladeshi counterparts and is considered to be wealthier.
Report author Margaret Lawson, senior lecturer in paediatric nutrition at the institute, said: "It was quite surprising. But the staple food of Pakistanis is the chapati and unleavened bread has been associated with vitamin D deficiency. Children of Indian and Bangladeshi origin were more likely to eat rice and less likely to have vitamin D deficiency."
More than 600 Asian children had their blood tested for iron and vitamin D concentration as part of an analysis published in the British Medical Journal.
Rickets has been recognised as a problem for Asian children since the 1960s. A "Stop Rickets" campaign promoted vitamin supplements in the Seventies and appeared to decrease the incidence in some regions. But the research shows that the problem is still acute for Pakistani children.