Most children don’t need supplements, says study

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Dietary supplement, Nutrition

A study published this week reports that many US children and adolescents who take vitamin and mineral supplements may not actually need them.

Appearing in the February issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine​, a JAMA journal, the study suggests that health care providers in the country should discourage the use of supplements by children with healthy diets.

“Many Americans use vitamin and mineral supplements despite the fact that these products are largely deemed unnecessary for children and adults who eat varied diets,”​ the study reported in its background information.

The US supplements industry issued an immediate response to the new study, stating that vitamin supplements are a component of a “total health package”​ and should not be discounted from the equation.

One third of children

The paper’s authors, from the University of California Davis School of Medicine and the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, found that around one third of children and adolescents take vitamin and mineral supplements.

The findings were derived from an analysis of data from 10,828 children age 2 to 17 who participated in the 1999 to 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

As part of the study, parents filled out questionnaires and participated in household interviews, and children and teens underwent medical examinations, including nutrition behavior analysis.

The study, which broke down age groups into children aged 2-4, 5-11 and 12-17, found that younger children were more likely to take vitamin and mineral supplements. Prevalence was 43, 37 and 27 percent respectively.

Greatest intake

Underweight children and those children with better overall diets reported greater supplement intake.

"Our results supported our hypothesis that underweight children would have the highest use of vitamin and mineral supplements,"​ wrote the authors.

"However, in contrast to what we expected to find, children and adolescents with healthier nutrition, more active lifestyles, greater food security and greater health care access were more likely to use vitamin and mineral supplements."

The researchers said that children and adolescents who may face the greatest risks for vitamin and mineral deficiencies are those that actually take supplements less. Children in this group include those with less healthy nutrition and activity patterns, greater obesity, lower income, lower food security, poorer health, and lower health care access.

OK for some

The authors concluded that “some children and adolescents who are underweight may potentially benefit from VM [vitamin and mineral] supplementation, but for other groups of VM users, medical benefits are less clear.”

Health care providers should screen their patients regarding the nutritional quality of their diet and their supplement use, and should then counsel parents that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend use of VM supplements in children and adolescents with varied and healthy diets, they wrote.

The supplement trade group Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) agreed that underserved areas of the population could benefit from multivitamins, but said that the supplements are also important for an “overall approach”​ to wellness.

The study also highlighted an ongoing debate surrounding the use of supplements by different population groups, stating that “multivitamin preparations for older children and adolescents are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and may result in adverse effects”.

CRN said this was a misconception. “The fact is that dietary supplements, including children’s vitamins, are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration,”​ it said.

Source:Vitamin and Mineral Supplement Use by Children and Adolescents in the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey​Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, Vol. 163 (No. 2), Feb 2009Authors:​Ulfat Shaikh, MD, MPH; Robert S. Byrd, MD, MPH; Peggy Auinger, MS

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