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Study shows adolescents are more likely to need vitamin and mineral supplements

Brief Description

A new study says adolescents are more likely to need dietary supplements than children.

Kern: A new study says adolescents are more likely to need vitamin and mineral supplements than children; and many children and adolescents that are taking supplements still aren't achieving recommended levels of certain nutrients. Data for the study used was collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a population based survey that is nationally representative, to draw new conclusions about supplement use. Dr. Regan Bailey, a nutritional epidemiologist at NIH's Office of Dietary Supplements and lead author of the study described says dietary supplement use varies among children ages 2-10.

Bailey: In that age range, we know that about a third of children are taking a dietary supplement. It differs by age with those under the age of 2 with only about 20 percent of use, but that number increases in 2-8 year olds to about 40 percent and then starts to decline again in adolescence and teenage years.

Kern: The study found that even though adolescence are the least likely to take dietary supplements, they would actually benefit most from them. Dr. Bailey explains why teenagers arenít getting the proper nutrients through food.

Bailey: They have limited food choices so they tend to eat the same foods over and over again. They are also a group who is notorious for not consuming enough fruits and vegetables and whole grains so this is certainly a group we are concerned about for not meeting their nutrient requirements.

Kern: Dr. Bailey says there are steps parents can take if they think their child or teenager isn't getting the proper amounts of certain nutrients.

Bailey: Parents need to talk to their health care professionals, either a physician or dietician if they're concerned. There are special cases that we know may need supplements. For example, children who are vegans may need a vitamin B12 supplement because that's a nutrient that's only found in animal products. If your child is not consuming the recommended amount of dairy or calcium-rich foods, then he or she may need a calcium supplement.

Kern: Dr. Bailey's study also found that for some nutrients, taking a dietary supplement isn't good enough.

Bailey: So what we found in our study were that calcium and vitamin D intakes were low even among those who were using a dietary supplement. Calcium is found in a multivitamin, which is the most commonly used product in children, but calcium is only found in a low amount in multivitamins because it's a logistics issue. The size of calcium is so much bigger than some of the other vitamins and minerals so in order to make a pill a size that is appropriate for a child, it's tough to fit all that calcium in. We also found that vitamin D intakes were low. But vitamin D, it's important to note that we can also make vitamin D from the sunlight. So if intakes are low but a child is outside, they may have an adequate vitamin D status even though their intake may be low because they have the ability to synthesize it.

Kern: Surprisingly, The study found that that children ages 2-8 on average are less likely to need supplements. In fact, some children taking supplements were actually consuming nutrients in excess.

Bailey: So, for those nutrients, it was folic acid, zinc, retinol, and iron. We're unsure about whether these high intakes pose long-term health problems. The upper limit is set by the food and nutrition board at the Institute of Medicine. And they are set for all age groups, but in general, there are very few studies in the age ranges that we're looking at to set these age ranges, so in general, what happens is the upper level for adults is then extrapolated to children.

Kern: Dr. Bailey hopes that data from her study will be used by the vitamin industry.

Bailey: So it's our hope that this information will be helpful in guiding the industry and reformulating dietary supplements to help children meet their needs but not exceed their needs.

Kern: You can find out more information about multivitamin and mineral supplements in English and Spanish and you can download a free mobile app to help you keep track of your vitamin and mineral intake at For NIH Radio, Iím Margot Kern — NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®

About This Audio Report

Date: 10/17/2012

Reporter: Margot Kern

Sound Bite: Dr. Regan Bailey

Topic: Multivitamins, dietary supplements, vitamin D, calcium, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

Institute(s): ODS

Additional Info:
Multivitamin/mineral Supplements
Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know
My Dietary Supplements (MyDS) Mobile App
NIH Podcast Episode #0169

This page last reviewed on October 17, 2012

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