You see them everywhere. Every grocery store, drugstore and super center has a whole aisle full of vitamins, many of them marketed for children. And while many parents use them, many more ask, “Is it really necessary?” Here you’ll discover the answer to that question and specific guidelines for parents to decide if their kids really do need multivitamins.
Purpose Of Multivitamins
Multivitamins are dietary supplements that are meant to replace or supplement nutrients from the foods that children eat. Vitamins and minerals are important for good development and overall health. The body is not able to produce many vitamins in adequate amounts. Most experts recommend getting vitamins and minerals from a healthy diet, but often times, children don’t have the best dietary habits.
(For more information on dietary supplements, read The Dangers Of Dietary Supplements And Tips For Safe Use.)
However, cautionary measures should be used when giving children multivitamin supplements. Mega dose vitamin therapy has been touted as being effective for treating a whole host of health problems, but there is no scientific evidence supporting its use, and some vitamins, particularly the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K can be highly toxic in large doses. Always discuss vitamins with the child’s pediatrician.
Why Parents Might Choose Multivitamins
Research shows that the parents who are most likely to give their children multivitamins are those with higher income levels. The reason is that these parents have greater resources to provide these supplements for their children. However, it may be the children of lower income families that need these supplements as nutrition among these children is often lacking.
Most children do get enough of their daily needs from their diets and don’t need multivitamin supplements, but parents are often unsure if their children’s needs are being met. There are a number of reasons why parents might choose to supplement their child’s diet with multivitamins. Diets can be lacking even under the best conditions. Over-farming has lead to fruits and vegetables that are lower in nutrient content and it seems that every where children go, even in schools, they are surrounded by and tempted with junk food. These highly processed foods have little nutritional value.
In addition, many children are finicky eaters. Most children go through crazy food phases. For instance, some children will only eat pizza, and macaroni and cheese for weeks on end. This can lead to serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies. In more serious cases, it can leave children in pain, increases the risk for childhood obesity and can retard growth.
Vitamins are appropriate for children who:
- Have an eating disorder
- Have been diagnosed as failure to thrive
- Don’t eat regular, well balanced meals
- Don’t get much sun exposure
- Have chronic illnesses or food allergies
- Have a restrictive diet, such as a vegan diet
If parents do decide to give their children multivitamin supplements, they should be sure that it includes the following:
- Vitamin A: this vitamin promotes healthy growth of cells, and aids in healthy vision.
- B-Complex vitamins: essential for red blood cell formation and metabolic support.
- Vitamin C: strengthens connective tissue, muscles and skin. Aids in the healing of wounds and boosts immune system.
- Vitamin D: essential for healthy bones and teeth. Regulates the absorption of calcium. It’s important to remember that children also get Vitamin D from exposure to sun light.
- Iron: essential for blood production and muscle growth. Girls need more iron than boys once they reach puberty.
- Calcium: essential for healthy bone growth. Studies show that those who are deficient in calcium in childhood have an increased risk of osteoporosis later in life.
If parents are going to give their child multivitamins, they should exercise caution. While most over-the-counter multivitamins are generally safe, there are a few things parents should be aware of.
Parents need to be sure that they read the label of the multivitamin that they choose. Often times, multivitamins can be missing essential nutrients. Parents should look for vitamins that contain 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance, or as close to it as possible and they need to be sure that, at a minimum, the multivitamin contains the nutrients listed above.
While reading the label, parents need to look for things like artificial colors and flavors. Some multivitamins are loaded with sugar or artificial flavors to mask the taste of the vitamins, or they contain artificial colors. When possible, parents should opt for all natural vitamins. They come in chewable or liquid supplements, and even in shakes that taste great without all the additives. These can usually be found at health food stores.
As with all medications, multivitamins should always be kept out of the reach of children. This is especially important in the case of the wildly popular gummy vitamins that can easily be confused for candy by small children, leading them to eat several of them. Eating one too many of these gummy vitamins can lead to serious health risks. Multivitamins can be a good addition to a child’s diet, especially if the child is a picky eater, but parents should always attempt to give their kids the best nutrition possible from their food because there is no magic pill that will replace good nutrition.