Do Your Kids Take Supplements? What You Need to Know

Do you give your young children vitamin supplements? If so, there’s some evidence that they may be getting more of many nutrients than the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends.

According to a research letter published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers from LECOM School of Pharmacy in Erie, Pennsylvania undertook what they believed to be the first ever analysis of labeled vitamin content in supplements designed for infants and children between the ages of 12 months and less than 4 years. In their analysis of 172 vitamin supplement labels, the researchers found that only Vitamin D was present in levels at or below the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for the target population. They also found that all other vitamins were at levels that exceeded the RDA or Adequate Intake (AI) values or weren’t present in high enough levels to be fully analyzed.

The researchers cite the IOM recommendation against excess supplementation for infants and toddlers because “a lack of data of adverse effects in this age group and concern with regard to the lack of ability to handle excess amounts.” They also express concern over the fact that much of the supplementation of infants and young children isn’t based on IOM recommendations and represents “wholesale oversupplementation.”

I’ve always been on the fence—and still am, to some extent—about the role of dietary supplements in a child’s diet. In a perfect world, children would get all the nutrients they need from food. Unfortunately, the reality is that many children—like their parents—overdo empty calories and fail to eat enough nutrient-packed produce, whole grains, low fat dairy and protein foods (including fish and beans). If most kids learned from the get-go to enjoy a diet rich in foods and beverages from all the key food groups and minimize added sugars and solid fat, they’d be much more likely to meet their nutrient needs to support growth and optimize their health. They’d also probably be more likely to maintain a healthy weight along the way.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ position paper on nutrient supplementation, “the best nutrition-based strategy for promoting optimal health and reducing the risk of chronic disease is to wisely choose a wide variety of foods.” However, the position paper also concedes that “supplements can help some people meet their nutrition needs as specified by science-based nutrition standards such as the Dietary Reference Intakes.” An example of this is the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation for supplemental vitamin D intake for infants and children.

If your child follows a vegan or vegetarian diet (or any diet that excludes one or more food groups) or has a medical condition that affects nutrient intake or absorption, supplements can likely fill in dietary gaps and meet nutrient needs for growth and development.

But before you give your child any dietary supplement, it’s wise to play it safe. First, be sure to discuss the specific supplement(s) and dosage(s) your child needs with a pediatrician and/or registered dietitian nutritionist. Because dietary supplements aren’t regulated like drugs and don’t need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s also a good idea to shop for those brands that meet purity standards set by organizations including US Pharmacopeial and NSF International suggested in a JAMA Pediatrics article.

For more information about dietary supplements, see this very helpful Advice for Parents.

Do you give your infants or children supplements?

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Herbal Medicine During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?
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Image of child taking vitamins via shutterstock.

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