Wall Street Journal reported last week that sales of children’s supplements in 2008 were around $1.1 billion and growing at 4-6% each year. This is the first time data is available for kids supplements, although there is little doubt that multivitamins and mineral supplements are a big business. Just look at the amount of space they occupy on the shelf at a typical supermarket!
I am sure the question has come to your mind – should you give your child a supplement?
The position of the American Dietetic Association, which I agree with completely, is that food should be the primary source of vitamins and minerals your child needs. In general, it is very unlikely that your child has a strong need for additional supplementation even if he is a picky eater or does not seem to eat enough fruits and veggies! The Wall Street Journal article cites a study of 1847 pre-schoolers in Belgium which suggested that both supplement users and those who did not take them were often meeting their nutritional needs through food alone with the exception of vitamin D.
Having said that, there are situations where you do want to discuss the subject of supplements with your pediatrician. In 5 Reasons To Consider A Multivitamin Supplement, I wrote about a few of these situations:
- If you are exclusively breastfeeding (0-24 months)
- If your child’s diet is primarily vegetarian (2-5 years)
- If your child does not eat enough fruits and veggies (2-5 years)
- If you have a picky eater (2-5 years)
- If your child’s growth profile is slower than normal (2-5 years)
The keyword here is consider – which means you should research this option and bring it up for discussion with your pediatrician or dietitian. Some experts believe that a majority of children today need some kind of supplementation, most frequently vitamin D, probiotics and omega-3, to fully optimize their nutrient intake. That may or may not apply to your child. It is very important to look at your child’s health history and growth profile over a long period of time. Just because he has become a picky eater over the last few weeks and does not eat any fruits and veggies is not enough of a reason to jump on the supplements bandwagon!
There is another aspect to supplement use. I wrote about another study of over 10,000 children 2-17 years old which concluded that kids who really need vitamins don’t get them. The point was that children from affluent households with a fairly good health profile were the biggest consumers of supplements.
In other words, parents are giving supplements to their children just in case and that they do not think there is any risk. Clearly, supplement makers focus on this behavior with their marketing and product mix. The problem is that there can be a downside if you are not careful. Here are a few possibilities –
- Risk of overdose, particularly vitamin A which can cause liver problems and lower bone density
- Overdose of iron can be fatal
- Zinc overdose causes copper deficiency which can cause anemia (low red blood cells)
- Poorly balanced formulation with respect to your child’s needs
- One product containing high amount of selenium caused vomiting and diarrhea
- Unknown impurities, sugar, artificial colors
The fact remains that unlike pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements are not rigorously regulated by the FDA. Some rules do exist and the FDA has the power to force product recalls, but it is only when there is a reported problem. As a result, a few bad products actually manage to slip through the cracks.
Bottom line: Treat vitamins and other supplements like drugs and use them only after consulting with your doctor. Choose a quality product with high purity ingredients (look for the USP seal).
Are you using a supplement with your child? Share your reasons and the type of supplement in comments below.