Are Multivitamins Necessary?
You're likely to find varying opinions in books and from health professionals about whether or not children need to take a daily multivitamin. The reason is that while the body is unable to make its own vitamins and minerals, most kids who eat a variety of foods get all the nutrients they need (and more) from their diet.
Now I'm willing to bet that many of you would argue that your kids are picky eaters. Believe me when I say that I agree, and that as a parent, I too have experienced the "I want pizza every day of the week and I don't like anything that comes in any shade of green" phenomenon. I'm sure I'm not alone in seeking peace of mind by giving each of my children a multivitamin at the end of the day as a convenient way to fill in any dietary voids my picky eaters may have created.
That said, there are certainly many instances in which vitamins offer more than just a back-up for picky-eaters. In some instances–such as with cystic fibrosis or children who eat true vegetarian diets–potentially serious vitamin deficiencies are both predictable and preventable with supplementation. Some deficiencies are isolated to single, common vitamins and minerals. They include:
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps make strong bones and teeth. Production of vitamin D in the body is not only dependent on dietary intake, but sunlight as well. Recent studies suggest that children may not be getting enough vitamin D, and in April 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a statement that all children–from infancy up through adolescence–need to get at least 200 IU of this rickets-preventing vitamin. While formula-fed babies who drink at least 17 ounces a day generally meet this requirement without any additional supplementation, breastfed babies generally need to be given vitamin drops containing vitamin D, and older children may require over-the-counter tablets.
Iron: Iron is a key component in red blood cells. For a variety of reasons, iron levels can become low in infants and children, requiring supplementation.
Calcium: This is another important nutrient necessary for healthy bones. While milk is often the major source of calcium for many children, some don't like it or can't have it and therefore require some form of supplementation. Quite often, it's possible to get the daily recommended amount from calcium-rich foods such as yogurt, cheese, tofu, sardines, broccoli and spinach, or calcium-fortified juices or waffles. TUMS and other supplemental forms of calcium are always an option but as with other dietary supplements, you'll first want to discuss this option with your health care provider or a nutrition expert.
The Bottom Line on Supplement Safety
If you are interested in the use of dietary supplements for your children–whether you're planning on only giving a multivitamin or exploring a broader range of products as well–here are some basic facts and recommendations to consider.
- Always let your child's health care provider know if you plan on giving your child any dietary supplements.
- In certain instances, dietary supplements have been found to interfere with some prescription medications.
- Supplements are not regulated in the same way as prescription drugs or even over-the-counter medications and do not have to pass rigorous clinical testing or review to prove they are safe or effective. When a supplement is labeled and marketed as having a particular effect on the body, the manufacturer is required to include the disclaimer that "This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease."
- Just because supplements are marketed as "natural" does not mean that they are inherently safe.
- Dietary supplements that seem safe when taken by adults can be very dangerous when given to children. Doses aren't always the same, and supplements (as with medicines) can cause very different effects in children than in adults.