HC Deb 13 February 1973 vol 850 cc1134-5
28. Mr. Pavitt

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will take immediate steps to restore free school milk in the light of the evidence of the return of the disease of rickets.

29. Mr. Robert Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will now make arrangements for the free distribution of milk and vitamin D tablets to children of school age in the light of new evidence of an increase in rickets.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir. Recent reports on the increase in the incidence of rickets are being considered by a panel of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy and it is too early to say what action may be needed.

Mr. Pavitt

Is the right hon. Lady aware of the report in The Times that there is now virtually an epidemic of a new form of rickets, biochemical rickets, which could be affecting 100,000, and that about 20 per cent. of the schoolchildren tested recently were found to have symptoms of rickets? Is it not time that she reversed her policy on school milk and made up for the mistake the Labour Government made on the same subject?

Mrs. Thatcher

The only evidence I have has been submitted to the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food Policy. That was the evidence of the Birmingham trials which involved about 600 children between 14 and 17. Of these children, 133 were examined radio-logically and 24 displayed radiological evidence of rickets. All 24 were immigrant children; 17 were boys—12 Asian and five West Indian—and the seven girls were Asian. With respect, I think that this is a much more complex matter than the Press reports have given us to understand.

Mr. Montgomery

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to an article which appeared in the Birmingham Evening Mail on 12th February by Dr. Trevor Cooke, a nutrition expert at the Birmingham General Hospital, in which he said that rickets will always be with us and advocated the remedy of dollops of cod liver oil? Are hon. Gentlemen opposite who complain about school milk being withdrawn recommending cod liver oil as a better substitute?

Mrs. Thatcher

I understand that the remedy appears to be a greater supply of vitamin D and that milk is not a rich source of this vitamin.

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