How British officials hope to give every child the gift of good health

Here’s a great story that’s in startling contrast to the supplement debacle over at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. And I couldn’t think of a better time to share it than Christmas Eve. Because it certainly captures the giving spirit of the season.

Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, wants to expand a program that offers vitamins A, C, and D for free to children under the age of 5 in low-income families. The new version would extend this benefit to all children, in an effort to improve health and ward off illness and disease.

Davies’ report on the subject is titled “Our Children Deserve Better, Prevention Pays.” And wow. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

How is it that the chief of medicine of the entire UK can loudly and visibly call for greater access to nutritional supplements, while some moron from one hospital in the U.S.–a country that sadly ranks lowest on almost every measurable health scale–can make a sweeping proclamation that we should ban them?

Talk about conflicting ideologies. It’s public health versus personal bias and industry influence. And I’m sure you can guess which side the U.S. is on.

Davies proposed this expansion along with a number of measures, citing that they would help to cut public health care costs. And as you may or may not know, pinching pennies is something the British system is very good at doing.

Almost too good, really. I remember when I did some training abroad during my medical school years. It astounded me that everything was a discussion on cost. I couldn’t even practice suturing without knowing how much each suture kit was costing. Meanwhile, back in the states, we used to tear through supplies without a second thought.

That’s just one example, of course. But it certainly reflects the sensibilities that went into a proposal of this nature.

Nutritional supplements are so inexpensive. And they can save so many lives. So it’s astonishing to me that more institutions aren’t exploring this field as a way to make a difference without spending a fortune.

Take vitamin A, for instance. This simple nutrient reduces childhood diarrhea, which is the leading cause of death in many developing nations in Africa. According to one of my favorite organizations, Vitamin Angels, a yearlong supply of vitamin A costs as little as 25 cents. Yes, that’s 25 cents per year. Which means that we could save a child’s life… for a quarter.

But believe me, it’s not just developing countries that could benefit immensely from nutritional supplementation.

Vitamin D deficiencies affect as much as a quarter of British children. And I don’t doubt that the statistic is similar here. If not worse, due to the amount of time American kids spend holed up indoors and parked in front of screens.

But even if our children did get outside every day (without that near-toxic layer of sunscreen, of course), most of the country still doesn’t get enough sun for the body to convert into an ample store of vitamin D.

Among other things, this nutrient is critical for strong bones, healthy immunity, weight maintenance, and heart disease and cancer prevention. So you tell me that public supplementation wouldn’t make a world of difference.

If you ask me, it’s high time our health officials started taking a few cues from their colleagues abroad. Because this revolutionary approach to public health isn’t merely the altruistic ideal of one woman.

The British Dietetic Association Paediatric Group supports what they call “the recommendation for universal supplementation” as well.

And the Australian Complementary Healthcare Council (CHC) stated their support for the idea, too. They are, and I quote, “heartened by… the recognition of the enormous potential for complementary medicines to demonstrate savings from disease prevention and health promotion.”

Can you imagine an announcement like that ever happening here? Short of a Christmas miracle, I wouldn’t bet on it anytime soon.

Starling, Shane. “UK Chief Medical Officer backs free food supplements for kids.” 25 Oct 2013.