Multivitamins for kids: ‘To solve insufficiencies and deficiencies, standard formulas have a place’

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Trade groups are advocating for multivitamins to be eligible for government programs like SNAP or WIC. Should there be a standard definition as to what can be called a ‘multivitamin’?

Store shelves are packed with multivitamins targeting children, differing from adult varieties usually because they include less amounts of nutrients to meet the daily value for children.

There are also smaller, more nuanced differentiators that will help a brand stand out from the crowd by targeting subgroups of an age group or highlighting condition-specific functions (think multis with probiotics for kids, or multivitamins for girls).

Despite these small differences, most brands should, and do, formulate multivitamins targeting children based on national dietary intake data, said Taryn Forrelli, ND, VP of products at gummy supplement company Olly​.

The three-year-old gummy brand can be found in major retailers like Walgreens, CVS, GNC, and Target. The company’s annual revenue is $50 million and growing.

“I think it’s obviously important that you have a credentialed expert formulating the product to make those decisions,”​ she told NutraIngredients-USA.

“We always look at NHANES data, and we’ll look at what those biggest gaps are by age group and by gender, and they do tend to differ,” ​she added, referring to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Multivitamins: A crucial role in filling nutrition gaps among children

Proponents of dietary supplementation say multivitamins can play a crucial role in a child’s development. “Generally we would hope that kids would get all the nutrients they need from a balanced diet, but we know that that is not always possible,”​ said registered dietitian Laura King.

She is the senior marketing manager of global maternal nutrition at multinational DSM Nutritional Products, which manufactures ingredients that go into multivitamins like fatty acids and vitamins.

“Kids are picky eaters, and they’re busy, and sometimes they don’t feel well. So vitamins and fortified foods and beverages can certainly fit that need,”​ she said.

Serving children from low-income households

Then there are the 15 million US children—about 21% of all children in the country—who come from households at or below the federal poverty threshold​. They’re more at risk to be overfed with calories, yet undernourished with micronutrients​.

Because of this, dietary supplement trade groups have been advocating for multivitamins to be eligible in government welfare programs like SNAP and WIC​, arguing that supplements can help fill the nutrition gaps for low-income families.

“When you get into those policy conversations, policy makers are much more comfortable with standardized formulas,”​ said Duffy MacKay, ND, senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a trade group.

“For example, with our efforts at allowing SNAP benefits to be used to purchase a multivitamin, we decided that a guideline or definition will help move that along,”​ he added.

What should these standards look like? “It should be science based, so really we should be looking at what kids are eating in their diet,” ​MacKay said.

“There are some great papers out there that have looked at the NHANES data for the United States, and where the shortfalls are. ​[We should be] formulating a standard formula to fill those gaps,” ​he added.

“To solve insufficiencies and deficiencies, standard formulas have a place.”

Still giving flexibility to formulators

MacKay clarified that CRN's position is not a one-size-fits-all and still allows flexibility among competitors.

Flexibility is welcomed by formulators like Forrelli from Olly, who was more wary about legally defining multivitamins. “I think that’s a bit of a slippery slope, I don’t think we want all the multivitamins on the market to look the same in terms of their nutrient profile. I think formulators like myself need to have the flexibility to either include or leave out nutrients as deemed appropriate for the intended user, or in the case of gummies, the format,”​ she said.

For the purpose of the SNAP and WIC coverage, Forrelli said it makes sense to create a minimum threshold.

​[This] makes sure that the product would address the most common nutrient gaps in a low-income population. So I think maybe a certification, or some type of claim that some products could make to make sure they’ll meet that criteria, something like ‘SNAP-approved’.”

Michael DeBiasi, general manager of US nutritionals and digestive health at Bayer, parent company of Flintstones vitamins, echoed her sentiments.

“That definition needs to evolve with science,” ​he said. “If the question is around a minimum standard, sure! I think it’s a good idea for a children’s multivitamin, but you want to keep room for evolving science.”

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