What kinds of supplements do parents give their children?

Families often turn to supplementation to ensure that children are getting the necessary nutrients. A new poll finds out what dietary concerns parents have and what type of supplements they give to their children.

In a perfect world, children would eat all of their fruits and vegetables and families would have easy access to affordable produce and protein, along with the time needed to cook healthful, nutrient-rich meals. However, we all live in the real world, which means that many families turn to dietary supplements to support their prevent nutritional deficiencies. The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, asked 1251 parents of children aged 1 to 10 years about the diet of their child and supplement use.1

Many of the parents said that there was a problem with their child’s diet, including not getting enough fiber (9%), not getting enough of specific vitamins or minerals (13%), not consuming enough fruits and vegetables (31%), and being a picky eater. Slightly over half of the parents stated that their child overall consumed a well-balanced diet. Fifty-eight percent of the parents said that it was difficult to get their child to eat a balanced diet and 47% said that it was expensive to feed their children a healthy diet.

Most parents gave their child some form of dietary supplement: 78% used multivitamins; 45% used probiotics; 22% use Omega 3 fatty acids; as well as specific minerals (25%) and minerals (44%). Regular supplementation occurred with 52% of children and 33% used them intermittently. Among the parents who used dietary supplementation with their children, 80% used products that were specifically made for children and 43% said that they had discussed the use of supplements with their child’s clinician. In the subgroup of children who don’t have a well-balanced diet, 51% of the parents regularly provided a dietary supplement to their child whereas in the group of children with a well-balanced diet, 53% of parents regularly gave their child a supplement.

The poll found some differences in supplementing between the parents in higher-income households (>$100,000) and those in lower-income households (<$50,000). Those in higher-income households were more likely to say that their child regularly takes a supplement (57% vs 44%), use a supplement that was formulated specifically for children (74% vs 63%), and speak to their child’s clinician about the use of supplements.

The parents were also asked about the factors that were very important to the decision to use supplements and they included:

  • Side effects - 87%
  • Tested for children’s safety - 85%
  • Efficacy in children - 82%
  • Clinician’s recommendation - 65%

When discussing the implications of the poll, the authors emphasized that the best way to obtain necessary nutrients is through a balanced diet. However, they understand that this may be out of the reach for parents for a number of the reasons that the parents cited in the poll. There was also confusion over the role the US Food and Drug Administration plays in regulating supplements, which is very little. The authors said this confusion and general lack of information available on supplementation is why communication with clinicians is important. Asking about supplementation can provide clinicians the opportunity to help families choose the right products and use accurate dosing. It also allows for the change to improve nutrition in other ways.

Reference

1. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. National Poll on Children's Health: Healthy eating and use of dietary supplements in children. 2022;40(5). Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/healthy-eating-and-use-dietary-supplements-children. Published April 18, 2022. Accessed April 19, 2022.