Decrease in sunshine, increase in Rickets

November 17, 2017, University of Toronto

A University of Toronto student and professor have teamed up to discover that Britain's increasing cloudiness during the summer could be an important reason for the mysterious increase in Rickets among British children over the past few decades.

Hospitalizations of children due to the disabling bone disease, caused by lack of vitamin D, began dramatically increasing starting in the mid-1990s, puzzling public . Some have pointed to changing immigration patterns, since people with darker skin absorb less vitamin D from the sun. Others are looking at shifting diets or changes in hospital admission policies. But Haris Majeed, a Master's student in Medical Imaging at U of T's Faculty of Medicine, wondered if long-term climate variability in sea surface temperatures played a role.

With a Bachelor's in Earth Sciences, mathematics, and biology, a Master's in geophysics, and an interest in public health, Majeed was in a unique position to connect the dots between shifting climate patterns and population health. So he worked with his old thesis supervisor in the Department of Physics, Professor G.W.K. Moore, to compare Britain's against the rise of Rickets.

"Sea surface temperatures are getting warmer over the North Atlantic, and are known to fluctuate every 60 to 80 years," says Majeed. "After the mid-1990s, North Atlantic entered a warm phase, decreasing average summer atmospheric pressures and causing more rain, and less sunshine, in the UK."

They found that median incidences of Rickets, which had been declining since the 1960s, almost doubled between 1997 and 2011, going from 0.56 cases per 100,000 British children to 1.01 cases. In the UK, health experts have determined that six hours a month of sunshine is needed to produce enough vitamin D in people's skin. But since the mid-1990s, increasing cloud cover has deprived the islands of about four hours of sunshine per month in the summer. Since the mid-1990's, the UK has received only an average of 183 hours of sunshine per summer month.

"Nobody thought of the sun," says Majeed, who is completing a Master's in Diagnostic Imaging, and hopes to work with big data in the emerging field of time series analysis. "Climatologists knew that the UK receives lower summer sunshine than other parts of the world, but no one ever thought of the effect it had on specific health implications, such as Rickets."

The results of their research were published on Nov. 17, 2017 in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

The duo studied Britain because it has the longest record of Rickets, extending back to the 1960s.

Majeed's interest in combining two seemingly disparate factors comes from his own personal life. "My mother has rheumatoid arthritis, which led me to Rickets. Perhaps if we're able to understand this condition based on long-term climate variability, can we as scientists save at least a few children from becoming disabled."

Majeed's unusually broad academic background has taught him that physicians and scientists should collaborate more on interdisciplinary research and take a more holistic approach to disease mechanisms.

"They should step back and broaden their scope of question," he says. "Not just focus on what we can do in terms of treatment options, although it is important, but also consider the roots. Rickets comes from lack of sun so ask what's going on with the variability in climate around us? Take a broader view of the research question, and then you can dig in."

Explore further: New Zealand children still suffer rickets from lack of Vitamin D

More information: Haris Majeed et al. Impact of Multidecadal Climate Variability on United Kingdom Rickets Rates, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-16058-1

Related Stories

New Zealand children still suffer rickets from lack of Vitamin D

June 30, 2015
Vitamin D deficiency continues to cause rickets in young New Zealanders, new University of Otago research has found. The researchers say that their finding suggests that at-risk mothers and children should be better targeted ...

Rickets making a comeback in the UK, doctors say

November 8, 2013
Rickets, the childhood disease that once caused an epidemic of bowed legs and curved spines during the Victorian era, is making a shocking comeback in 21st-century Britain.

Are our schools damaging children's eyes?

March 24, 2015
Shockingly, research has shown a dramatic increase in the number of students leaving secondary school with short-sightedness, or myopia, and a new study published in the Journal Perspectives in Public Health, published by ...

Daily calcium intake of 1,000 or 2,000 mg best for rickets

June 27, 2016
(HealthDay)—For children with rickets, radiographic healing is more rapid with 1,000 mg and 2,000 mg daily calcium intake compared with 500 mg, according to a study published online June 17 in the Journal of Bone and Mineral ...

Children breastfeeding after first birthday should take vitamin D supplements, study says

February 18, 2016
Children who are breastfeeding after their first birthday should take a vitamin D supplement to prevent health problems such as rickets, new research suggests.

Recommended for you

More frequent checks control MRSA in newborns, but can hospitals afford them?

May 22, 2018
The more often a hospital can check its newborns for deadly MRSA germs, the more likely it will be that they are contained, according to a new study.

Could we predict the next Ebola outbreak by tracking the migratory patterns of bats?

May 22, 2018
Javier Buceta, associate professor of bioengineering, Paolo Bocchini, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and postdoctoral student Graziano Fiorillo of Lehigh University have created a modeling framework ...

Helping preterm infants grow bigger kidneys would prevent kidney disease later in life

May 21, 2018
Nephrons are the microscopic blood-filtering units inside our kidneys that convert waste products into urine, regulate our electrolyte levels and our blood pressure.

Kidney docs worry over no dialysis for undocumented immigrants

May 21, 2018
(HealthDay)—Undocumented immigrants in the United States are often denied treatment for kidney failure until they have a life-threatening emergency. Now a new study finds that the doctors and nurses who treat them are frustrated ...

Clues found to early lung transplant failure

May 21, 2018
Among organ transplant patients, those receiving new lungs face a higher rate of organ failure and death compared with people undergoing heart, kidney and liver transplants. One of the culprits is inflammation that damages ...

How to ethically conduct clinical research during public health emergencies

May 21, 2018
Following the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine established a committee to assess the clinical trials conducted in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. In ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.