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People want their children to grow up strong, and in many families, parents give their children vitamin supplements to keep them healthy. According to a 2004 study, about 50 percent of young children have taken supplements. These candy-flavored vitamins with their cartoon shapes are appealing to kids, but do they do any good? Does your child really need to take these? The evidence that they are beneficial is weak.

Thomas Sherman, a biochemist and neuro-endocrinologist at Georgetown University’s School of Medicine, said that overall, the data showing a benefit from taking vitamins is limited. For children, the data showing a benefit is “practically nonexistent.”

Nutrients should only be taken from a healthy diet

One thing that researchers can agree on is that a healthy diet by itself can give most kids all of the nutrients they need, without resorting to supplements. Even kids with less than perfect diets can still be well nourished, thanks to the fact that milk, orange juice, cereal, and other foods are often fortified with additional vitamins.

William Rees, who heads up the American Academy of Pediatrics Virginia chapter, has been practicing pediatrics and seeing children and families for 37 years in Fairfax County. He said that it is very hard to get to a state of vitamin deficiency, and that he cannot recall ever seeing a child with this problem who did not also have an underlying illness which caused the deficiency.

For healthy children parents should not need to give them a daily multivitamin or usually any individual vitamin. The recommended approach is to focus on food instead, giving your child healthy, well-balanced meals with plenty of vegetables and fruits. Not only will this give them all of the minerals and vitamins that they need to stay healthy, but it will also set them up with good eating habits that could serve them well into adulthood too.

While it’s true that some kids are picky when it comes to food, parents should resort to food tricks rather than turn to supplementation. It’s a lot easier to mix some fruits in a blender, put some spinach in it, and make a healthy shack rather than give pills to your kids.
boy sitting in grass with dog, putting something in mouth
Vitamin D may be an exception

Vitamin D is important for growing children, because it helps their bodies build strong bones.  This vitamin has also been cited as a possible protection against cancer and a few other diseases. There are very few foods you can give a child that contain vitamin D. Most of what we need is produced by our own bodies when we are exposed to sunlight.

A study in 2008 reported that around 40 percent of the children they reviewed did not have an adequate level of vitamin D. People do their best to keep kids out of the sun. Strollers have shades, kids wear hats and long sleeves, and everybody covers themselves with sunscreen. This leads to a widespread deficiency in vitamin D. Many experts therefore recommend vitamin D as a supplement for children of all ages. This includes breast-fed babies, because breast milk is often lower in vitamin D than fortified formulas are.
closeup of boy smiling at camera
Other exceptions

Children who have to follow a specialized diet may be missing out on certain vitamins and minerals. This may be a good reason to add a nutritional supplement to their routine, but talk it over with your pediatrician first. Diseases and medical conditions like cystic fibrosis can limit a person’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, which can also make supplements a wise addition.

It’s certainly debatable whether your children need vitamin supplementation or not. Scientists are in doubt and that’s because food is the healthiest source of nutrients for kids. Some specialists agree that parents should give their kids vitamins only in special cases. Deficiency of vitamin B12 for example, may lead to anemia and irreversible nerve damage. However, if your kids are not that fond of dairy, eggs and meet, a pediatrician might recommend vitamin B supplementation.

It’s really important for parents to ask for advice from a specialist prior to starting to give multivitamins to their kids, and that’s because even we’re talking about harmless supplements, they can still lead to unpleasant side effects.