The question: Does my picky six-year-old need a multivitamin?
Tha answer: When you add up the obstacles that can prevent kids from getting enough nutrients — picky eating, food allergies, vegetarian diets and busy schedules that leave little time for balanced meals — there is an argument for adding a multivitamin to your child’s daily routine.
Most experts contend that healthy children should be able to get all the vitamins and minerals they need from a balanced diet, but the the reality is many don’t.
According to Canada’s most recent national data (albeit it’s a decade old), seven out of 10 children aged four to eight eat less than five daily servings of vegetables and fruit — a habit that’s likely to shortchange folate (a B vitamin), vitamins C and A, and potassium and magnesium. Many children also don’t get enough calcium in their diet and the statistics get worse as kids get older. (Canada’s next national nutrition survey is scheduled for 2015.)
If your child’s picky eating habits mean he or she doesn’t eat eat least one daily serving of meat and alternatives (e.g. meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, soy), a multivitamin with added iron is a good idea.
There’s some evidence to suggest that a multivitamin does more than simply ensure that children get nutrients missing from their diets. A review of studies concluded a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement had a positive effect on intelligence, especially in kids whose diets were low in vitamins and minerals.
Children’s multivitamins — formulated for kids aged two to 12 — differ from adult’s not only in their lower nutrient doses, but also in their form, ranging from chewable tablets to gummy bears to liquid drops. Some formulas contain vitamins only, usually vitamins A, D, E, C, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12 and folic acid. Others are fortified with iron (4 or 5 milligrams) and some have added calcium (125 to 160 mg).
Children’s multivitamins labelled “complete” may not contain all vitamins and minerals important to a child’s health. That’s okay, provided your child gets the rest from his or her diet. But if you’re giving your child a one-a-day multi because his diet lacks iron or calcium, read labels to be sure you’re buying what your child needs.
Multivitamin supplements are generally safe for healthy children, but they can be toxic if taken in large amounts. To prevent your child from getting too much of any one nutrient, choose a formula made for kids. Treat multivitamins like any other medication: Keep them out of reach of children.
Multivitamins can’t make up for a consistently poor diet that’s high in sugar and sodium and lacking in fruits and vegetables. Even if you give your child a multivitamin, continue to encourage a variety of healthy foods.