MEDICI children may have had rickets

The children of the Medicis, one of history's wealthiest families, may have had rickets, a disease typically associated with the inferior diet and cramped living conditions of the poor. What's more, wealth may have been to blame.

That's the finding of a study in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. Italian researchers found evidence of the disease in the skeletons of nine 16th-century Medici children. Several of the skeletons had curved arm and leg bones — a telltale sign of walking or crawling on soft bones. One had a deformed skull. Rickets is caused by a lack of vitamin D. In poor children, the disease often stems from malnutrition or a lack of sunlight.

But an analysis suggests that the Medicis were fed breast milk — a poor source of vitamin D — until they were 2. And assuming they followed the custom of the time, they would have supplemented the milk only with soft bread and apples. The researchers said the children were probably deprived of sunlight, which spurs the body to make vitamin D. Wealthy children of that time were often swaddled and kept inside, with suntans discouraged as signs of low standing.

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