A recent study from the UC Davis Children’s Hospital found that children who take vitamins are actually the ones who don’t need them. It’s the kids in socioeconomic classes who don’t take them that could benefit most.
Areas that fall below the poverty line experience much higher incidence of malnutrition and have an inability to purchase these supplements.
The cost of the vitamins proved to be a barrier in receiving assistance of any kind, and a limiting factor in obtaining adequate resources, according to the study.
The study examined data collected through the National Health and Nutrition Survey on roughly 10,800 students and adolescents ranging from ages two to 17. It ultimately found that a third of the population surveyed did not need the additional vitamins they were taking. Two- to 4-year-olds were seen to be consuming the most.
“We were very interested in whether parents of children that had risk factors associated with mineral deficiencies used vitamin supplements as a safety net,” said Dr. Ulfat Shaikh, assistant professor of pediatrics at the UC Davis Children’s Hospital.
The idea for the research was formed after a recent paper came out from the American Pediatrics Association releasing its guidelines on vitamin use for children.
The paper suggests that supplemental vitamins are neither required nor recommended for children and adolescents who are over a year old and who consume a variable diet on a daily basis. This suggestion prompted the Children’s Hospital to look more closely into the factors that lead children to take vitamins and compare the reasons why they take them.
Researchers considered factors including sociodemographics, food security, health status, health care, nutrition and physical activity. Sociodemographics are based on the age, sex, country of birth, poverty status and race/ethnicity. Food security pertains to the inability to obtain sufficient and nutritious food on a regular basis.
Nutrition and physical activity played an important role in the study, as a well-balanced diet and daily physical activity can result in no need for supplemental vitamins.
Shaikh emphasized that physicians do not advocate such supplements as a replacement for a well-balanced and nutritious diet. On the contrary, doctors recommend that those who engage in physical activity and eat nutritiously every day not take vitamins at all.
“One problem, however, is that in the U.S., a lot of people do not consume foods rich in vitamins, adequately, so the challenge is that people need to understand what adequate volume is [needed] to take daily,” Shaikh said.
The problem encompassing all of this resides in the relative difficulty of attaining health care, Shaikh said.
“Among other implications is that children who do not have nutritious diets and do not have adequate access to health care would need to be delivered to more than just clinicians,” she said.
Parents of children that take the vitamins clearly stated that their kids made less frequent trips to the doctor and were in overall better health.
Dr. Robert Byrd, co-author of the UC Davis study, said another focus of the study was the question: Are people feeding junk to their kids and trying to make it up by just giving them the vitamins?
“We found the opposite is true: Families that are trying to do everything right in way of the well-balanced diet are the ones that are more likely to give their kids vitamins,” he said.
One of the study’s major implications is the idea that nutritional education needs to be provided to the public in a way other than in the doctor’s office because this is not accessible to everyone.
As a result, Shaikh and her fellow researchers are trying to bring awareness to this issue, in hopes that those who need vitamins will begin taking them, whereas those who don’t will simply maintain an active lifestyle alongside a nutritious diet.
SADAF MOGHIMI can be reached at email@example.com.