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Vitamins Are Not Needed For Healthy Children


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

According to a new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, many healthy children and teenagers take vitamins and mineral supplements that they simply do not even need.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, and University of Rochester, School of Medicine and Dentistry, analyzed the data on more than 10,000 American children and teenagers ages 2 to 17, who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2004. As part of the study, parents filled out questionnaires and participated in household interviews, and children and teens underwent medical check-ups.

The results surprised researchers when they found that about one-third of all kids had used a vitamin or mineral supplement within the previous month, but that most of them did not need to supplement their diet at all.

"We were curious about why certain parents may choose to use over-the-counter multivitamin supplements for children, and some might not," said study author Dr. Ulfat Shaikh, a pediatrician at the University of California Davis School of Medicine, who treats children with nutritional problems. "We hypothesized that supplements might be used to reduce adverse effects if parents thought their child wasn't eating right or were wondering where their next meal was coming from. But we actually found the opposite."

It turned out that the children who took vitamins the most were those who already consumed a lot of milk, ate a lot of fiber and did not intake much fat or cholesterol. Overall, they were healthier and tended to be white, have health care access, and came from families with good income. They also tended to lead more active lifestyles, were not overweight, and did not watch too much of TV or spend a lot of time playing video games.

On the other hand, children who took vitamins the least, or did not take them at all, turned out to be at a greatest risk for nutritional deficiencies. This included kids and teens with less healthy patterns of diet and exercise, greater obesity, low-income household, and food security, poorer health and less access to health insurance.

"Poverty seems to be the overriding factor," Dr. Shaikh said. Although supplements may not seem expensive to a middle-class family, the cost may be onerous for a low-income family, she said. "Parents who were poor were perhaps unable to afford supplements."

And, indeed, the data showed that only 22 per cent of children from families below the federal poverty line were taking vitamins, compared with 43 per cent from families above the poverty line. Among households not enrolled in the federal Food Stamp Program, 38 per cent of children used vitamins. But in families using food stamps, vitamin use was just around 18 per cent. 36 per cent of children, where there is no problem with food in households, used vitamins, and only 15 per cent used vitamins in households where there is "food insecurity and hunger."

Generally speaking, children who eat a varied diet do not need to take vitamins or other supplements, and the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend supplement use for children over the age of 1 who are on a healthy diet. "Multivitamin preparations for older children and adolescents are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and may result in adverse effects ranging from nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain to increased cerebrospinal pressure, liver abnormalities and neuropathy (nerve damage)," the authors wrote. Supplemental vitamins are recommended only for certain groups of children, including those with chronic diseases, eating disorders, problems absorbing nutrients or liver disease, or obese children in weight-loss programs.

And still, there is a good evidence about important potential benefits of a vitamin D, particularly for kids who do not consume much milk. Federal guidelines recommend that children get 400 I.U. of the vitamin daily, which kids can get by drinking four cups a day of fortified milk. But most kids, including those eating regular balanced meals, don't drink that much - and a multivitamin would be recommended to make up for the deficiency. Vitamin D not only helps to keep bones strong, but it also has been linked to other possible health benefits, such as preventing some cancers and heart diseases.

What the study suggests is that health care providers need to examine children and make necessary recommendations to parents, whether or not vitamin supplements are needed in their individual case. Families whose children get well-balanced and healthy meals should know that vitamin supplements will not make their children any healthier. But parents who struggle to make both ends meet, may need help in order to better access to vitamins and minerals to supplement daily meals of their kids.

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