More than 30 percent of American children age 18 and younger take some form of dietary supplement, most often multivitamins and multiminerals, according to a report in the October issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
Most U.S. adults—including 57 percent of women and 47 percent of men—take dietary supplements, according to background information in the article. Professional organizations emphasize diet as the best source of nutrients for children; however, physicians may recommend supplements for certain children at risk of deficiency.
Mary Frances Picciano, Ph.D., of the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md., and colleagues analyzed data from the 1999 to 2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This nationally representative survey included 10,136 children age 18 or younger. Participants were given medical examinations and families were interviewed, usually at home.
The researchers found that:
- 31.8 percent of children had used dietary supplements in the previous 30 days, including 11.9 percent of infants younger than 1 year, 38.4 percent of children age 1 to 3 years, 40.6 percent of 4- to 8-year-old children, 28.9 percent of 9- to 13-year-olds and 25.7 percent of teenagers 14 to 18 years
- more non-Hispanic white (38.3 percent) and Mexican American (22.4 percent) children used supplements than non-Hispanic black participants (18.8 percent)
- multivitamins and multiminerals (18.3 percent) were the most commonly used supplements, followed by single vitamins (4.2 percent), single minerals (2.4 percent) and botanical supplements (0.8 percent)
- children who took supplements at all during the previous 30 days took them regularly, with more than 50 percent having taken a supplement 30 times in the past month and more than 60 percent having taken supplements for at least 12 months
- supplement use was associated with higher family income, a smoke-free environment, lower body mass index in children and less daily television, video game or computer time
- children who were underweight or at risk for being underweight were the most likely to take supplements
- 83.9 percent of those who took any supplements took only one, 11.8 percent took two and 4.3 percent took three or more
“In conclusion, dietary supplements provide a consistent daily source of nutrients for nearly one-third of U.S. children, yet individual and national-level estimates of nutrient intake rarely account for them,” the authors write. “Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide recommended nutrient intakes and advice on food choices that promote health and reduce the risk of disease. To truly assess the nutrient status and estimate the potential health risks of U.S. children, we must include nutrient intakes from dietary supplements as well as from food.”