Every morning you make your kids breakfast and that breakfast includes a multivitamin in chewable or gummy form. You think, “Hey, even if they aren’t eating as many of the fruits and vegetables the food pyramid might recommend, at least this is something healthy we’re doing.” Right?
Well, it turns out that you wouldn’t be alone. According to a study published in the June issue of the Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics, a third of U.S. children and adolescents would say they “had taken any vitamins, minerals, herbals or other dietary supplements in the last 30 days.” And the use of alternative or herbal supplements has almost doubled from 3.7 percent to 6. 3 percent from 2003-2004 to 2013-2014.
It had us wondering, do kids even need a multivitamin or other dietary supplement on a regular basis?
The answer for most kids is no, says Dr. Steven Abrams, professor of pediatrics at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. Abrams was the lead author of the recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatrics last year that told parents to avoid giving children younger than 1 fruit juice.
“Most kids, if they take a supplement like a standard daily vitamin, it won’t cause any harm,” Abrams says. “For the most part, it probably won’t do any good, either.”
Rather than giving them vitamins or supplements like Pediasure, he would rather parents concentrate on finding healthy foods their children like and encouraging them to try new things, but not force them. Remember that what they get in the food they eat is more than just the vitamins. In fruit it would be antioxidants and fiber as well.
Many parents will ask about their picky eaters, but he says, kids are probably getting more variety in their diet than we recognize. “If your child is growing normally, there’s a really good chance he’s eating better than you think.”
If not, talk to your pediatrician and do some tests to see if there is a vitamin deficiency, chronic illness or other circumstance that would make your kid an exception to the general rule that vitamin supplements aren’t necessary. For example, Abrams says, teenage girls sometimes might need an iron supplement if they become anemic.
Babies who are exclusively breastfed also might need Vitamin D, because breast milk doesn’t have any Vitamin D in it, but formula does, Abrams says. In Texas, often babies can get Vitamin D through a bit of sun exposure. Moms also can put Vitamin D drops either in a bottle of breast milk or on her nipple when nursing. Breastfed babies also need iron when they turn 4 months old, he says, until they are getting it through their diet after meat or fortified cereal is introduced.
Taking vitamin supplements usually isn’t dangerous unless kids are treating them like candy or are using them instead of medication. Abrams gives examples like using Omega 3 instead of medication to control attention-deficient hyperactivity disorder, or using Vitamin D to try to prevent the flu instead of a flu shot.
Also, supplements with a high concentration of caffeine could be dangerous as well.
What about melatonin as a sleep aid? A new study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics Thursday indicated that melatonin could help children with developmental delays or autism sleep better. That might be true for those kids, Abrams says, but most kids will do well without melatonin if parents concentrate on improving sleep hygiene by doing things like shutting of the screens before bed and reading a book instead.