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Do your kids need a multivitamin?

August 16, 2013

It’s hard not to agonize over what our kids eat. There are days when I meticulously pack a healthy lunch for my preschooler, and she comes home having eaten everything EXCEPT the fruits and vegetables. And sometimes, we’ll sit at the dinner table, and she’s not interested in a single bite. This is pretty normal toddler behavior, but it tends to make moms crazy. We worry that they’re not getting enough nutrients, enough good stuff to keep their growing bodies healthy, so it makes sense to ask the question: do they need a multivitamin?

The answer for most children is no. That may not be what you expected to hear, but that has been the consensus from nutritional experts for quite some time.

“But, my child is so picky! He hardly eats anything healthy,” you might counter.

Here’s the thing: while vitamins and minerals are necessary nutrients that the body needs from food, they are needed in relatively small quantities. A bite or two from each of the basic food groups can often fulfill a healthy child’s daily requirements. The body also stores vitamins and minerals, so even if they’re not meeting each requirement every day, it’s the overall balance that matters.

Some parents may reason, though, that they’d rather be safe than sorry. If a multivitamin is harmless, why not give it just in case, like a safety net for poor eaters?

When it comes to vitamins and minerals, the idea that if a little is good then more must be better, is a common misconception. If it isn’t needed, it’s often better not to give it.  

How about Vitamin D?

With every rule there’s always an exception, right?

Vitamin D is an essential element for building healthy bones. Research suggests that it may also play a role in the prevention of some chronic illnesses. Even though vitamin D can be found in fortified milk and can be obtained from exposure to sunlight, studies have shown that many adults and children are still deficient.

We spend most of our time indoors, and when our kids are outdoors, we’re protecting their skin from sun damage by using sunscreen. Sunscreen is important and necessary for the prevention of skin cancer, but it doesn’t allow the absorption of vitamin D. And while we try to get our kids to drink milk, they would need to consume an entire liter of milk every day to meet their daily requirement.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants, children and adolescents receive a vitamin D supplement. Beginning in the first days of life, infants should receive a supplement of 400IU of vitamin D. This is especially important for breastfed infants, as breast milk tends to be vitamin D deficient.

Infants receiving formula also need a supplement, unless they are consuming at least 32 ounces of formula each day.

The recommendation for children and adolescents is the same: 400IU per day. Older children can take chewable formulations, while liquid drops are available for infants.

In a nutshell, forget the multivitamin, but consider a vitamin D supplement.

And remember, that as you make these decisions, your pediatrician can help you determine what is best for your child. Just ask!