Healthspan staff August 09, 2018

It can be something of a thankless and tricky job trying to get your kids to eat a balanced and varied diet and choose kale over cake. But is it really necessary to give them a vitamin and mineral supplement if they seem to be developing and growing normally? 

Playing with food

We all want our kids to get the best start in life and providing them with healthy, nutritional meals is one of the ways we can do this. 1 Encouraging them and educating them to eat well at a young age should not only help them thrive it should also help them make healthier choices throughout life. We all know this really and we also know how that can go. Even if you are not time-strapped and can devote the time to cooking nutrient dense meals from scratch there’s always the possibility your little finicky darlings just might turn their noses up at your healthy offerings. Or maybe they don’t eat very much: some kids just don’t. True, many foods that kids will eat like breakfast cereals, yogurts, milk and fruit juices are fortified with extra vitamins and minerals so they shouldn’t really be nutritionally deficient but there may be many instances where a child could benefit from extra vitamins and minerals.

Not getting enough

In 2017 the Food Foundation concluded that ‘the UK is facing a rising tide of malnutrition that is damaging our children’ 2 and revealed that British children’s diets are the worst in Europe. It points out that vitamins and minerals are essential for the normal growth and development of children and those who aren’t getting enough are at developmental risks including impaired academic performance. If any child is living primarily on a diet of processed and fast food they not only run the risk of becoming obese they are also at risk of malnutrition and poor growth, development and possibly impaired mental health. Drinking gallons of fizzy sugary drinks which can leach vitamins and minerals from their bodies doesn’t help either. It should be pointed out that it is not just little kids who are at risk: the Food Foundation study also reveals that less than 10 per cent of secondary school children eat the recommended amount of fruit and veg and on average they drink around five and a half cans of pop a week. So no, in an ideal world kids shouldn’t need a multivitamin supplement but we don’t live in an ideal world and there are many other factors which can conspire against kids getting the nutrients they need.

The nutritional safety blanket

Other factors which might contribute to kids not getting the varied nutrients they need include those with any chronic diseases like asthma or digestive disorders or food allergies. Plus if they are eating a more restricted diet like a vegetarian or vegan one they may not be getting enough from food alone.3 Adolescent girls are also notoriously picky eaters. The NHS Choices website says, ’Growing children, especially those who don’t eat a varied diet, sometimes don’t get enough vitamins A and C. It’s also difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone.’ For this reason, the Department of Health recommends all children from six months to five years are given supplements containing these three vitamins on a daily basis.4 Research carried out in Wales in 2017 found that surprisingly few new parents actually knew about these government guidelines.5

Getting your kids to take a multivitamin (or not take too many!)

So if a multivitamin for kids provides a nutritional security blanket for those who may need it what should we be looking for when choosing one and how do we get them to take it? Firstly, check that it contains the vitamins recommended by the Department of Health notably A, C and E and that it doesn’t exceed the 100 per cent recommended daily amount of vitamins and minerals for your child’s age group. Adult multivitamins would provide too high a percentage of individual vitamins for them. Look for ones that are sugar free and contain natural flavourings and colours. With so many child-friendly forms to choose from, sprays, drops, brightly coloured chewable tablets or gummy bears, gone are the days when you had to cunningly hide them in their food and it has never been easier to get kids to swallow their vitamins. The flip-side of this is that they can now taste and look so good your child can think of them as sweets and want more than their recommended daily amount. Getting more than they need, however, especially if they are eating heavily-fortified foods like breakfast cereals and snack bars, say, at the same time as taking a supplement can push them towards dangerously high levels of some nutrients including vitamin A, niacin (vitamin B3) and zinc according to some US research.6 Many multivitamins created for children don’t contain iron but if yours does be particularly vigilant about giving them just the one recommended daily dose, high levels can be toxic in children.7 So keep them safely out of reach of your child and be mindful if they are on any sort of medication that could potentially interact with the vitamins in your multivitamin. Your GP can give you more advice.


References
1 https://www.nutritionist-resource.org.uk/content/healthy-eating-for-kids.html
2 https://foodfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/1-Briefing-Malnutrition_v4.pdf
3 https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/vegetarian-and-vegan-diets-q-and-a/
4 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/vitamins-for-children/
5 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41942105
6 https://www.ewg.org/research/how-much-is-too-much/up-to-half-of-young-children-get-too-much-vitamin-zinc-and-niacin
7 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/iron/

 

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