Most kids don't need multivitamins

Even the pickiest eaters can get the proper amounts from their food

Published: August 03, 2015 03:00 PM

Worried about your child’s vitamin and mineral intake? Most healthy children get what they need through their regular diet—however imperfect. And that means most children do not need to take multivitamin supplements.  

That hasn't stopped parents in nearly seven out of 10 U.S. households with children from giving their kids over-the-counter multivitamins. That's according to the  market-research firm Mintel, which estimates that Americans spent some $440 million on children’s vitamins, minerals, and other supplements in 2013 alone. Makers of children’s multivitamins have zeroed in on this growing market, creating an array of products such as gummies and liquid vitamin drops that appeal to both kids and parents who are anxious about their children’s health.

“They are marketing to parents’ fears that their child is somehow going to miss out on something,” says Mark Corkins, M.D., pediatrics professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Tenn.

In fact, the concept of taking a daily vitamin supplement originated not from scientific research, but from the marketing departments of  pharmaceutical companies such as Miles Laboratories in the 1940s, says Consumer Reports chief medical adviser Marvin M. Lipman, M.D. “Convincing the public to take a daily supplement as a preventative health measure was part of a very effective marketing strategy to increase sales of its One-A-Day brand vitamins,” says Lipman. "But there is no reliable medical evidence to support healthy people of any age taking a daily multivitamin,” he says.

In fact, Consumer Reports knows of no U.S. government health organization or professional medical organization that promotes the regular, across-the-board use of a multivitamin at any age. On the contrary, a nationwide study of children under age 4 published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that most children got the nutrients they needed from their usual diets and did not require a supplement. Another national study of more than 2,000 children in grades 1 to 12 found that the majority of children generally ate nutritionally adequate diets.

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Ironically, doctors have noted that the very parents who give their children a multivitamin are the ones whose children are least likely to need it. “The very concerned parents, the ones who make sure kids wear a helmet when they ride a bicycle, wear seatbelts, and eat healthfully, their children are the ones who are least likely to need a supplement,” says Corkins, who is also a Certified Nutrition Support Clinician and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Nutrition.

It’s also important to note that dietary supplements, including multivitamins, do not undergo Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review and do not require FDA approval before they hit store shelves, so there’s no guarantee that they contain what’s listed on the label, or that they’re safe and effective.

Of course, some children with special dietary needs may need a multivitamin that’s prescribed or recommended by their doctor. But for everyone else, it’s OK to leave the multivitamin on the store shelf.

—Susan Feinstein

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