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Vitamins for Kids: Do They Really Need Them? 

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The kids vitamin industry has come a long way since the chalky Flinstones vitamins from your youth. Now you can find chewables in all kinds of shapes, sizes and flavors (sugar-free gummies! Probiotic multis! Vitamins for teens!). And yes, nutrients are obviously very important for optimal bodily function. But when it comes to kids and vitamins, are they really necessary? Or can you just give your kid a banana for breakfast and call it a day? Here’s what parents need to know.

Meet the expert

  • Dr. Denise Scott is a JustAnswer pediatrician, pediatric endocrinologist, and certified culinary medicine specialist with nearly 30 years of experience. Her pediatric training was completed at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center with fellowship training at the National Institutes of Health. She worked at the Children’s Hospital of Oklahoma prior to entering private practice and also co-founded the first after-hours pediatric urgent care clinic in Oklahoma City.

Does Your Child Need a Multivitamin ?

Short answer: Probably not. Long answer: It depends. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, for most children, there is really no need to supplement with vitamins. The reason being that human bodies don’t actually need large amounts of vitamins, and your kid is most likely getting enough from their diet—even if they’re a so-called picky eater. Another important thing to keep in mind is that many childhood staples like cereal, pasta and milk, are fortified with nutrients, so even if your kid will only eat buttered noodles for dinner, they’re probably doing just fine.

There are, however, some children who could benefit from a daily vitamin. According to Dr. Scott, if your kid falls into one of the below categories, then you should check in with your pediatrician about supplementing their diet:

  • Children with very restricted diets, due to factors like allergies or extreme pickiness (the key word here being extreme).
  •  Pubertal girls who don’t drink milk should take a calcium and vitamin D supplement. “They need 1,300 to 1,500 mg of calcium and 600 to 800 IU of vitamin D.”
  • “Menstruating girls often need an iron supplement, as it is hard to get enough of this mineral in the diet. If uncertain, have their iron level checked.”
  • Children who are vegan or vegetarian should be monitored for specific deficiencies. Those who do not eat animal products may need to supplement with iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamins D and B12.
  • “Some children with ADD or ADHD have been found to have low iron or ferritin. It may be worth having these levels checked and if low, consider an iron supplement.”
  • Children living at high altitudes have an increased risk for anemia and iron deficiency and should be monitored.
  • Certain health conditions that interfere with nutrient absorption, such as celiac disease, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and cystic fibrosis, may require supplementation with vitamins.

What about babies?

​​Breastfed babies under the age of one need to supplement with vitamin D (400 IU via drops), since breastmilk alone does not provide enough vitamin D for infants. Babies on formula don’t typically need a supplement, provided that the formula is fortified with 400 IU of vitamin D per liter.

If you do give your kid vitamins, what should you look out for on the bottle?

When it comes to vitamins for kids, there is a lot of choice out there and it’s all wrapped up with very enticing packaging. But before you toss that rainbow-colored bottle into your cart, Dr. Scott says that it’s important to scan the label to make sure that the amount of each vitamin does not exceed the recommended daily dose for a child. “In particular, look at the fat soluble vitamins—A, D, E, and K,” she cautions. “These vitamins in excess get stored in the liver and can be dangerous.”

The expert also advises that parents look for vitamins that don't have added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial dyes, colors or sweeteners. “Gummy vitamins do not contain iron and are not good for the teeth. Fillers such as hydrogenated oil, titanium dioxide and magnesium silicate are best avoided.” Finally, make sure to check that there are no ingredients in there that your child could be allergic to if they have food allergies such as dairy, soy or nut products.

One more thing

You want little Archie to take his daily multi, but don’t treat vitamins as candy, caution experts. And always keep them out of reach. As previously mentioned, excessive consumption of vitamins (something that may happen if your toddler finds a box of their favorite “candy” lying around open) can be very dangerous.

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