A major health problem facing immigrant children: nutritional rickets

J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2021 Oct 6. doi: 10.1515/jpem-2021-0420. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Nutritional rickets (NR) is still an important problem and one which increasing influxes of immigrants are further exacerbating. This study evaluated cases of mostly immigrant children followed up with diagnoses of NR in our pediatric endocrinology clinic.

Methods: Details of 20 cases diagnosed with NR between 2017 and 2020 were retrieved from file records.

Results: Twenty (11 male) cases were included in the study. Three (15%) were Turkish nationals and the others (85%) were immigrants. Hypocalcemia and hypophosphatemia were detected in 17 and 13, respectively. Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) values were normal in two cases, while ALP and parathyroid hormone (PTH) values were elevated in all other cases, and PTH levels were very high (473.64 ± 197.05 pg/mL). 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were below 20 ng/mL in all cases. Patients with NR received high-dose long-term vitamin D or stoss therapy. Six patients failed to attend long-term follow-up, while PTH and ALP levels and clinical findings improved at long-term follow-up in the other 14 cases.

Conclusions: The elevated PTH levels suggest only the most severe cases of NR presented to our clinic. Clinically evident NR is therefore only the tip of the iceberg, and the true burden of subclinical rickets and osteomalacia remains unidentified. Public health policies should therefore focus on universal vitamin D supplementation and adequate dietary calcium provision, their integration into child surveillance programs, adequate advice and support to ensure normal nutrition, exposure to sunlight, and informing families of the increased risk not only for resident populations but also for refugee and immigrant children.

Keywords: immigrants; nutritional rickets; refugee; vitamin D deficiency.