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Children rarely need vitamin supplements
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Cute, chewable vitamins are a part of many people's memories of their daily childhood routine, but kids who eat a well-balanced diet actually don't need these supplements.
Parents often give children multivitamins to ensure they are getting the vitamins and minerals their bodies need to stay healthy. Many adults take supplements for the same reason.
Rebecca Kelly, human nutrition specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said eating right is the best way to get needed nutrition.
"Food will supply the nutrients your body needs and will give you other plant and animal chemicals that are beneficial to your health," Kelly said. "When you rely on a capsule or tablet to get your nutrients, what you get is whatever nutrients have been put into that capsule or tablet. These do not contain the other beneficial substances found in food."
Health experts urge people instead to meet their body's nutritional needs with a well-balanced diet based on sound nutritional practices.
"The Food Guide Pyramid is a great tool to use, either to see how your diet measures up or to help plan your food choices," Kelly said. "To eat a well-balanced diet, choose a variety of foods in the amounts right for you based on your calorie needs and the Food Guide Pyramid."
A Food Guide Pyramid has been established for children ages 2 to 6, and one for everyone over age 6. See a registered dietitian for help figuring out the recommended daily servings.
While a well-balanced diet is ideally all that is needed to meet nutritional needs, Kelly said doctors sometimes recommend vitamins for very young children until they are eating solid foods that contain enough vitamins. After age 2, it is rarely necessary for youth to take supplements as a precautionary measure.
Some situations do require supplements. Children drinking from a non-fluoridated water supply may be given fluoride supplements, children with poor eating habits are often given a multivitamin-mineral supplement and those following strict vegetarian diets are often given vitamin B12 supplements. Pregnant teenagers, like other pregnant women, are likely to need iron and folic acid supplements.
"I recommend seeing a registered dietitian for advice on whether you or your child needs supplements and what kind," Kelly said. "Dietitians are the food and nutrition experts. Registered dietitians will take information you give them about your dietary practices and determine whether you are meeting all of your nutrient requirements."
Kelly said these professionals work with clients to determine whether simple food choice changes or supplements are recommended to meet dietary needs.
"Your child's pediatrician also can be a good source of advice. I recommend against getting advice on supplements from a salesperson. They are in the business of selling, not health care, and this is a health care issue," Kelly said.
When choosing an over-the-counter supplement, avoid those that supply more than 100 percent of the recommended levels of any substance. At the least, it is a waste of money, and at worst it is harmful to health.
"Information about the beneficial effects of nutrients has led some consumers to take excess amounts of dietary supplements, assuming that more is better," Kelly said. "It doesn't work that way with nutrients. Your body needs very small amounts of the essential vitamins and minerals, which you can get from food in most cases. Toxic overdoes of vitamins and minerals are unfortunately fairly common among children."
In 1996, poison control centers received more than 50,000 reports of children 6 and under swallowing excessive doses of supplements. Fruit-flavors, cartoon-shaped chewable vitamins entice young children to eat them like candy in amounts that can cause poisoning. Among the most toxic supplements are those containing 30 milligrams or more of iron.
For more information, contact: Dr. Rebecca Kelly, (662) 325-1801