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Q
Should More Kids Take Vitamins?

I recently read that less than a third of the children in the U.S. take vitamins. Do you think more of them should? What’s the downside of not taking vitamins if kids are getting a balanced diet?

A
Answer (Published 8/24/2010)

Originally published 2/19/2008

A national survey that included more than 10,000 children did determine that only 18 percent take a daily multivitamin/mineral and that less than a third of them receive any vitamin and mineral supplements at all. That's surprising, since 30 percent of the adult population of the U.S. takes multivitamin/mineral supplements. The survey results were published in the October 2007 issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

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Most disturbing was the survey's finding that only 12 percent of infants younger than a year old are getting a supplement - the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants get 200 IU of vitamin D through a supplement or via their formula daily beginning during the first two months of life and continue to take this amount throughout childhood and adolescence to prevent deficiency and protect against the bone-deforming disease rickets.

I recommend that children take a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement, because so many of them eat mainly processed and refined foods and don't consume enough fruits and vegetables. There's no harm in the occasional ice cream, pizza or candy bar in the context of a well-balanced diet, but try to encourage snacking on healthier foods - fresh or dried fruit, a small handful of raw, unsalted nuts such as cashews and walnuts, a small chunk of flavorful, natural cheese or a piece of dark chocolate. Vitamin supplements shouldn't be regarded as substitutes for whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables.

My colleague Russell Greenfield, M.D., co-author of Healthy Child, Whole Child, recommends waiting until children are at least four years old before giving them vitamin or mineral supplements (other than the vitamin D they already should be taking). He reminds me that it isn't always easy to find a good child's multivitamin that does not contain sugar or artificial colorings, and if you give your kids gummy vitamins, be sure that they get additional dental attention. Dr. Greenfield also cautions that children between the ages of four and 12 should get no more than 50% of the adult RDA of the major vitamins and minerals, especially the fat-soluble ones (A,D,E, and K), from supplements. After age 12, kids can safely take the adult dosage.

I recommend giving children a complete antioxidant formula as well as multiminerals.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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