Do Children Need Multivitamins?

By Rhianna Ross, RHN

We have all heard the statement, you can get all your nutrients from food. But is that true especially when it pertains to children’s diets? We looked at the research and found that it is very difficult to get even the basic daily requirement of most vitamins and minerals from the standard North American diet, especially if you are a growing child.

Food Can’t Provide All Nutrients

The Journal of Nutrition looked at dietary intakes of vitamins and minerals from diet alone in over 34,381 people surveyed. More than 70 percent of children ages one to 13 were not consuming adequate nutrients from their diet. The researchers discovered that diet alone was not providing optimal nutrient intake except for the mineral zinc. 

Nutrient Inadequacies in Affluent Communities

A U.S. study in four elementary schools located in upper socio-economic communities found that nutrient consumption from diet alone was very low. Up to forty-five percent of children were not eating enough calcium to prevent osteoporosis, let alone to build strong bones. Seven out of 10 children had inadequate vitamin D intake which is necessary for optimal bone and immune health, to prevent some cancers and autoimmune diseases. No children met the recommended intake for potassium, vitamin E and vitamin K necessary for optimal heart health. This study showed that even in affluent communities, intake of nutrients from diet alone was not adequate. 

a group of kids eating a healthy lunch at school

The Journal of the American College of Nutrition reported that dietary intake of nutrients in children aged four and older was below the basic requirements for vitamins A, C, D and E as well as calcium and magnesium. They also found that no child was consuming adequate potassium. They concluded that adequate amounts of many essential vitamins and minerals were not being achieved through food alone.

Did You Know?

Salt, caffeine, and sugar all deplete potassium in the body.

Science States Kids Need Supplements

All of the studies we reviewed recommended that age- and gender-specific multivitamin and mineral supplements be used to increase the vitamin and mineral status in children.

Silent Nutrient Deficiencies

While the symptoms of an extreme nutrient deficiency may be obvious to some parents because they can see dark circles under the eyes caused by an iron deficiency, suboptimal amounts of certain nutrients can hinder a child’s physical and mental health without a parent ever knowing.

It is hard to see that an inadequate intake of bone-building nutrients such as vitamin K2, D3 and calcium could be leading to reduced bone density.  Or that a lack of vitamin A and B6 is leading to lowered immune function, or that low levels of iron, magnesium, or essential fatty acids are causing behavioural problems.

When Food Isn’t Enough

Subpar Foods

Even if you think your child is eating a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, protein and healthy fats, there are other factors that make getting enough vitamins and minerals difficult.

Foods are harvested before they are fully ripened by the sun which reduces their nutrient content. Fruits and vegetables are grown in soils that have been depleted of nutrients from over farming. Foods are transported long distances and stored for extended periods of time, all reducing the nutritional content.

We eat refined and highly processed foods which have had the nutrients removed during the milling process. For example, eating white rice and white flour that have had the nutrient-rich outer layer removed instead of consuming brown rice or whole grains. To make up for this processing, nutrients are being added back into foods in a process called fortifying—read the label of your child’s breakfast cereals. However, the research we reviewed has shown fortifying foods does not make up for the loss of the nutrients normally found in their wholefood form.

Increased Needs

Growing children have increased nutritional needs. For example: growing, active or athletic children, vegetarians, vegans, and menstruating girls have higher nutritional needs—basically all children.

Digestion Matters

Unfortunately, children can suffer from some of the same digestive disorders as adults such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s, colitis, food allergies and low levels of gut probiotics. These conditions can cause an inability to effectively absorb the nutrients from food. 

young girl climbing up indoor climbing wall

All children with a digestive concern must supplement with vitamins and minerals, protein shakes, probiotics and essential fatty acids to ensure optimal health.

Multivitamins Bridge the Gap

Multivitamin and mineral supplements do not replace a healthy diet or make up for a bad diet; they are designed to supplement the diet and fill in any nutritional gaps that may exist.

Everyone regardless of age should be eating a varied diet rich in vegetables, fruits, high-quality protein and healthy fats. But when it comes to growing, active children they all need a great multivitamin with minerals. Read our article What to Look for in Kids Multivitamins.

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About the Author

Rhianna Ross, R.H.N., is a registered holistic nutritionist based in Vancouver, BC. Rhianna has more than a decade of experience in the natural health and wellness industry, and currently works at KidStar Nutrients, where she enjoys reviewing and analyzing the latest nutritional research papers, meta-analyses, and journal articles.