One Child in Three Takes Dietary Supplements

October 2, 2007

BETHESDA, Md. -- More than 30% of American children and adolescents take dietary supplements regularly, most often multivitamins and multiminerals, according to an NIH study.

BETHESDA, Md., Oct. 2 -- More than 30% of American children and adolescents take dietary supplements regularly, most often multivitamins and multiminerals, according to an NIH study.

Yet supplements are rarely taken into account in national estimates of nutrient intake, Mary Frances Picciano, Ph.D., of the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements here, and colleagues, wrote in the October issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Highest use of supplements was found among children ages four to eight; lowest use was among infants and teenagers 14 to 18. Noting the low use among young teenagers, the investigators said that other studies have found that those who do not take supplements may be at risk for nutritional deficiencies because of poor diet habits.

Most U.S. adults, including 57% of women and 47% of men, take dietary supplements, according to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the researchers said.

But, although physicians may recommend supplements for children with special risks, little is known about their use in a nationally representative sample of infants, children, and adolescents, the researchers wrote.

So they analyzed data from NHANES (1999 through 2002) that included information on 10,136 children from birth through age 18 gathered via interviews at home and at a mobile examination center.

Overall, they found vitamin use increased from low levels in infants and young children to about 49% for five-years-olds. After that age, use declined steadily to about 20% for 15-year-olds, and then increased among older teenagers as they approached young adulthood.

The researchers found that:

  • 31.8% of children used dietary supplements, with the lowest use reported among infants younger than one year (11.9%) and highest use among children ages four to eight (48.5%). This was followed by a decrease among teenagers 14 to 18 (25.7%). After age 19, use increased into adulthood.
  • Use was highest among non-Hispanic whites (38.1%) and Mexican Americans (22.4%), and lowest among non-Hispanic blacks (18.8%), and did not differ by sex.
  • Children who were underweight or at risk for being underweight were the most likely to take supplements (P