NIH study tracks children's supplementation in US

By Clarisse Douaud

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Dietary supplements, Percent, Nutrition, Vitamin

A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study is calling for
individual and national estimates of children's nutrient intakes to
account for the consumption of dietary supplements.

Published in the current issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine​, the NIH researchers analyzed nationally representative data from the National Center for Health Statistics' 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The analysis revealed that approximately one third of children in the US take dietary supplements regularly, meaning these products form a significant part of their diet that is not addressed in surveys. "To truly assess the nutrient status and estimate the potential health risks of US children, we must include nutrient intakes from dietary supplements as well as from food,"​ wrote the researchers. The type of supplements most commonly used are multivitamins and multiminerals (18.3 percent), vitamin C (28.6 percent), retinol (25.8 percent), vitamin D (25.6 percent), calcium (21.1 percent) and iron (19.3 percent). As with similar data on adult consumption of supplements, the researchers found a correlation between favorable socioeconomic factors and regular consumption of dietary supplements. Consumers with higher incomes are more likely to make these products part of their daily life. Supplement use was also highest among non-Hispanic white children from higher-income families, who grow up in smoke-free households where less television is watched. Lowest consumption of dietary supplements occurred among non-Hispanic black children. While those children from households with health insurance were "significantly" more likely to use supplements containing retinol, ascorbic acid, vitamin D According to the authors, current pediatric recommendations are for children to receive their nutrients principally from diet with supplementation in specific situations. When looking at the entire span of this age group and supplementation, the figures show dietary supplement use was lowest in the first year, highest among young children, and declined among adolescents. Only 12 percent of infants were regularly given supplements in their first year; 38 percent of children between the ages of one and three; 40 percent of children aged four to eight; 29 percent of children aged nine to 13 years; and, 26 percent among teenagers aged 14 to 18. Instilling the values of an overall healthy lifestyle that includes a well-balanced diet and regular exercise has become a priority in the US given the increase of childhood obesity - a reality that doesn't spell well for the health of children as they grow into adulthood. Data taken at different intervals as part of NHANES demonstrates an increase between the 1976-1980 survey period and the 2003-2004 survey period. The prevalence of overweight children aged two to five years increased from five percent to 13.9 percent. The prevalence for children aged six to 11 went from 6.5 percent to 18.8 percent, while for the 12 to 19 age group, the rate grew from five percent to 17.4 percent. The food industry has in part been blamed for this gap in nutrition due to the successful marketing of unhealthy products geared at younger age groups. Less and less physical activity is another oft-cited factor. Source: Picciano, Mary Frances et al. "Dietary supplement use among infants, children, and adolescents in the United States, 1999-2002." Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med​. Vol 161 (No. 10), Oct 2007.

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