Stories about: vitamins

The only kids who need vitamins (spoiler alert: there aren’t many)

Gummy vitamins for children.

As a pediatrician, I get a lot of questions whether their children should take a multivitamin or other vitamin supplement. Parents think they will make their children healthier — and some think they will make them eat more (they don’t, sorry). Since our bodies need different vitamins to be healthy, they ask,

Should I give my child a multivitamin?

Not necessarily, actually. It turns out that most children don’t need them, making them an expensive waste of money. They can also be dangerous if children take too many, something that is very possible given that most chewable multivitamins for children taste like candy. And giving a vitamin can give families a false sense of security that their child is getting everything they need — when they aren’t.

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Parents, leave the multivitamins in the bottle

By Carolyn Sax, MD, a primary care physician with the Pediatric Physicians’ Organization at Boston Children’s and practices at Hyde Park Pediatrics in Hyde Park and Milton, Mass.

Sax_CarolynParents often ask me whether I recommend multivitamins for their children, and in most situations I say no. This takes a lot of people by surprise. Vitamins sound like such a good thing, right?

The answer is actually somewhat complicated.  Foods that are naturally rich in vitamins are definitely a good thing, and many scientific studies have shown the benefits of eating a diet rich in nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats and milk. But the vitamins themselves, when taken in pill form, can actually be harmful. Our body is most effective at using nutrients when they enter us directly from their natural food source. The healthful advantages of these nutrients depend on their food “packaging” to give their full healthful benefits, like iron found in spinach or all the vitamin E packed into an avocado. But researchers have yet to find any benefit from most vitamins taken in pill form. None of the major medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Medical Association, The American Institute of Nutrition, The American Society for Nutrition, or The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend routine use of multivitamins.

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Claims of vitamin-fortified, sugary foods hard to swallow

cerealboxWalking down the cereal aisle at the supermarket, it’s impossible to miss the declarations of health benefits prominently located on the fronts of the colorful boxes. The Nutrition Facts Panel—a valuable consumer resource that lists a product’s sugar, salt, fat and calorie content—is usually printed on the side of the box. But do parents searching for a healthful choice even bother to read the nutritional information when the front of the box suggests the product is made of “whole grain goodness” and “immune-boosting” vitamins?

Unfortunately many don’t and that’s a real problem, says David Ludwig, MD, PhD, in a commentary co-authored with Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). “We’ve arrived at the deplorable situation of Cocoa Krispies being marketed as a way to protect children from H1N1 flu, because it has a few added vitamins,” says Ludwig.

Consumers tend to believe claims on the front of packages, according to recent research, and perceive health statements to be endorsed by the government. But few health claims on food products have any basis in science at all. And unlike medications, food product labels don’t have to disclose their potential ill effects, such as obesity from high added sugar content.

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