Vitamin D, rickets and child abuse: controversies and evidence

Pediatr Radiol. 2021 May;51(6):1014-1022. doi: 10.1007/s00247-020-04893-w. Epub 2021 May 17.


Suboptimal vitamin D status is a global health issue that affects children and adults worldwide. The prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency has been well documented in the pediatric population in the United States. Although vitamin D deficiency is common, radiographic findings are uncommon and can be subtle. Additionally, because of the high prevalence of pediatric vitamin D insufficiency, it is commonly identified in young children with fractures. However, the majority of pediatric fractures are caused by trauma to healthy bones. Some, especially in infants and toddlers, are caused by non-accidental trauma. A small percentage is related to medical disease, including those associated with disorders of collagen, disorders of mineralization, and non-fracture mimics. Despite the scientific evidence, among disorders of mineralization, non-rachitic disorders of vitamin D have become a popular non-scientific theory to explain the fractures identified in abused children. Although infants and young children with rickets can fracture bones, the vast majority of fractures identified in abused infants are not caused by bone disease. Here we present a review of the literature on bone disease in the setting of accidental and non-accidental trauma. This context can help physicians remain vigilant about identifying vulnerable young children whose injuries are caused by non-accidental trauma.

Keywords: Child abuse; Fractures; Infants; Maltreatment; Non-accidental trauma; Radiography; Rickets; Vitamin D.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse* / diagnosis
  • Child, Preschool
  • Fractures, Bone* / diagnostic imaging
  • Fractures, Bone* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Rickets* / diagnostic imaging
  • Rickets* / epidemiology
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin D Deficiency*


  • Vitamin D