ALL under-fives could get free vitamins under plans being considered by the government — but Bolton health chiefs are one step ahead in the fight to tackle the rise of rickets.

Initially only low-income families qualified for free vitamins under the Healthy Start programme.

But children in Bolton considered at risk of developing Vitamin D deficiency are given the same access.

The number of people being treated for rickets has doubled in the town over the past two years, according to figures released in April. A lack of exposure to sunlight is being blamed for the resurgence of the disease, which was virtually wiped out in the Western world in the 1940s.

Now, England's chief medical officer — Professor Dame Sally Davies — has asked the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to review whether all children should receive drops or tablets containing vitamins A, C and D.

Yet health chiefs in Bolton extended the Healthy Start pro-gramme to “at risk” children two years ago.

The “at risk” groups include: pregnant or breastfeeding mothers on either low income, poor dietary intake, dark skin tone and people with low exposure to sunlight.

Children aged one month to two years and infants being artificially fed, but taking less than 500mls of formula milk a day, are also considered “at risk”.

A council spokesman said: “We are committed to giving every child in Bolton the best start in life and are always looking at ways we can improve everyone’s health.

“The Healthy Start programme offers families on low incomes the opp-ortunity to benefit from free milk, fresh or frozen fruit and veg, and vitamins, includ-ing vitamin D.

“In Bolton we are enhancing this pro-gramme by offering the Healthy Start vitamins free to families with young children who might not qualify for the Healthy Start pro-gramme but who are at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

“We are also working with local pharmacies to promote the benefits of taking vitamin D supplements during winter, particularly for those groups of people who might be at risk.”

Dr Barry Silvert, of the Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group, added: “We will follow with interest further discussions between the Department of Health and NICE on the possible extension of the scheme to all children under five.”

l Ten people in Bolton were treated in hospital between 2010 and November, 2011. Of those treated, two were under one, six were between one and 16, and two were 17 to 64.