Nutritional rickets: deficiency of vitamin D, calcium, or both?

Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Dec;80(6 Suppl):1725S-9S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/80.6.1725S.


Nutritional rickets remains a public health problem in many countries, despite dramatic declines in the prevalence of the condition in many developed countries since the discoveries of vitamin D and the role of ultraviolet light in prevention. The disease continues to be problematic among infants in many communities, especially among infants who are exclusively breast-fed, infants and children of dark-skinned immigrants living in temperate climates, infants and their mothers in the Middle East, and infants and children in many developing countries in the tropics and subtropics, such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Yemen, and Bangladesh. Vitamin D deficiency remains the major cause of rickets among young infants in most countries, because breast milk is low in vitamin D and its metabolites and social and religious customs and/or climatic conditions often prevent adequate ultraviolet light exposure. In sunny countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, and Bangladesh, such factors do not apply. Studies indicated that the disease occurs among older toddlers and children and probably is attributable to low dietary calcium intakes, which are characteristic of cereal-based diets with limited variety and little access to dairy products. In such situations, calcium supplements alone result in healing of the bone disease. Studies among Asian children and African American toddlers suggested that low dietary calcium intakes result in increased catabolism of vitamin D and the development of vitamin D deficiency and rickets. Dietary calcium deficiency and vitamin D deficiency represent 2 ends of the spectrum for the pathogenesis of nutritional rickets, with a combination of the 2 in the middle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Calcium / deficiency*
  • Calcium / therapeutic use
  • Calcium, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Child
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / etiology*
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Food, Fortified
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Rickets / etiology*
  • Rickets / prevention & control
  • Vitamin D / administration & dosage*
  • Vitamin D / therapeutic use
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / complications*
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / etiology
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / prevention & control


  • Calcium, Dietary
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium