foodIn light of recent news concerning the debate over multivitamins and supplements, it is no wonder many parents are questioning whether to give vitamins to their children.  Are they helpful?  Are they harmful?  Who needs to take them?  Which ones should they take?

Perhaps a little perspective is in order.

There is no doubt that vitamins and minerals play an important role in the overall nutrition and health of your child, but what may be less clear is how much he or she is getting from their diet.  In children with poor eating habits, those on special diets, including vegan diets, or those with certain vitamin deficiencies, supplementation may be necessary.

As your child grows, their needs will change as well.  Beginning with infancy, babies who are exclusively breastfed may not receive adequate Vitamin D, therefor Vitamin D drops may be prescribed in order to avoid the risk of developing Vitamin D-associated diseases, including rickets, which is a softening and weakening of the bones that can lead to skeletal deformities, typically of the leg bones.

Iron is another essential component of your child’s growth and development. The typical daily requirements of elemental iron are listed below.

 Age group  Recommended amount of iron a day
 7 to 12 months  11 milligrams
 1 to 3 years  7 milligrams
 4 to 8 years  10 milligrams
 9 to 13 years  8 milligrams
 14 to 18 years, girls  15 milligrams
 14 to 18 years, boys  11 milligrams

Infants and children who are at the highest risk for iron deficiencies include:

  • Babies born prematurely
  • Babies given cow’s milk before age 1
  • Breast fed babies not given complementary iron-rich foods after age 6 months
  • Babies given formula not fortified with iron
  • Children ages 1-5 who drink more than 24 ounces of milk per day
  • Children with health conditions, chronic infections or restricted diets
  • Adolescent girls because their bodies lose iron during menstruation

That said, I believe a daily children’s multivitamin can be of benefit, particularly for those picky pasta and pizza eaters out there!  However, when selecting a multivitamin it is important to read labels and discuss your selections with your pediatrician, since supplement labels are not evaluated by the FDA and many gummy vitamin brands contain corn syrup as their first ingredient. If your child uses gummy vitamins, be sure to brush the teeth afterwards. Also, keep vitamins out of the reach of children as overdosage can be very harmful (and those gummy vitamins taste just like candy).

fruits_and_veggiesAs for the Omega-3 fatty acids, the health benefits are overwhelming for every age group from birth to old age, and they are becoming an increasingly important tool in mainstream medicine.  For children, diets rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA have been linked to improved cognitive and brain development, a decreased risk of asthma, ADHD, depression, diabetes, and improved cardiovascular health.

So, a well-balanced diet filled with fruits and vegetables (particularly of the dark, leafy green variety) is an essential part of every child’s well-being, but when diet alone is not enough, the addition of vitamins and supplements may be just what the doctor ordered.