The question of whether or not to give a child a vitamin supplement is one that many parents ask their healthcare provider. After all, the word vitamin is derived from the Latin “vita,” meaning life. The body has obvious needs for vitamins to properly grow and develop. So why not add one to our daily diet? Other than possibly being an unnecessary cost, there are other things to consider.
For starters, the best source of vitamins is through food and drink. Most children in the United States who frequently eat a well-balanced diet do get their daily allowance of nutrients. Your pediatrician may determine this by asking if your child eats from a variety of food groups, consisting of grains (many cereals, pasta, breads), dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt), protein (meat, poultry, eggs, legumes, fish, nuts), and fruits and vegetables. A more comprehensive list depicting the food groups can be found on the USDA’s My Plate site.
Looking at your child’s growth curve can also help make the decision of whether or not to supplement with vitamins. Most children with normal growth and a well varied diet will not need a supplemental vitamin.
There are situations where children may lack certain vitamins due to a limited diet, which can lead to medical problems. Some examples include a vegan or vegetarian diet, being a picky eater, having a food allergy (such as milk) or food insecurity.
One common vitamin deficiency is Vitamin D, seen in breast fed infants and children who consume less than the recommended amounts of milk. In these situations, taking a Vitamin D supplement may be advised in order to prevent a bone condition known as Rickets, where deformities in the legs can develop. Vitamin D also helps the body store calcium, which is important for bone and tooth strength.
Another nutrient in which children are often deficient is iron. While iron is a mineral rather than vitamin, it is found in a variety of foods including red meats, legumes, and certain leafy green vegetables. Iron deficiency may be seen in children who are picky eaters, excessive milk drinkers, and adolescent females. Low iron can lead to anemia, a blood condition that can affect growth and cause fatigue. This is something your pediatrician can easily check for and treat.
Other important vitamins for normal growth and development are Vitamins A and B. Vitamin A is important for the development of healthy skin and eyes, immunity and tissue repair. Good sources of Vitamin A include orange and yellow vegetables, milk, cheese, and eggs. B vitamins aid in metabolism and energy stores; these can be found in animal products, as well as nuts, beans and soy.
There are medical conditions that put children at higher risk of vitamin deficiencies.Some diseases, such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and cystic fibrosis, affect the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Obesity can be associated with low levels of Vitamin D, among other nutritional deficits. Some medications can also lead to vitamin deficiencies.
Finally, when talking about vitamins, the safety of taking a supplement must also be considered. Health issues, such as headaches, nausea, and diarrhea, can occur from taking more than the recommended amount of certain vitamins. For this reason, vitamins and supplements should always be stored out of the reach of children in order to avoid accidental overdoses.
While there may be some instances when taking a vitamin is appropriate, it is important to discuss the risks and benefits with your healthcare provider before starting your child on a vitamin supplement.
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