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Vitamin use is highest in kids who don’t need them

Vitamin use is highest in kids who don't need themChildren who are fit and healthy are more likely to take vitamin supplements than those who actually need them. This is the result of a study by researchers at the University of California Davis.

We live in an era of vitamin supplementation as millions of people swallow supplement pills each day ranging from your OTC vitamin and mineral supplements to more “exotic” dietary supplements such as krill oil and flax seed extract.

But do we really need these supplements and do they really work?

The UC Davis study showed that most American children and teenagers who take supplements actually do not need them. Ironically, many children who are malnourished and are at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiency are not taking any.

The results are based on data from 10,828 children aged 2 to 17 years old who were part of the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999 to 2004. Here are some specific figures:

  • 30 to 40% of children whose daily diet meet their nutritional requirements are more likely to take vitamins.
  • Only 28% of children who are underweight, have poor diet or medical problems take supplements.

It seems that supplement use is closely associated with socioeconomic factors.

  • 22% of children below poverty cut off take vitamins
  • 43% of those in middle- and upper-income levels take vitamins. These are also the children who have greater access to health care.
  • 36% of children in households with sufficient food take vitamins.
  • 15% of children in households with “food insecurity and hunger” take vitamins.

These figures reflect the inequalities in health care not only in the US but in many other parts of the world.

You may ask, is it so bad that these children take vitamins that they do not need?

Apparently experts think so. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages vitamin use in healthy children under 1 year old though this probably does not include vitamin D. Several studies put doubt on the benefits and safety of vitamin and dietary supplements.

The researchers also point out that feeding unnecessary pills to very young children, e.g. 2 to 4- year olds, might confuse them and give them the impression that taking medications is a part of our normal daily life.

Indeed, with unnecessary supplementation for our children, even if we can afford it, we could be creating a pill-swallowing generation.

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