When I was a kid, my parents doled out a garishly colored chewable multivitamin to my brothers and me each morning. They tasted like fruity chalk and we all fought over who got the purple or orange ones, which were infinitely more palatable than the dusty-looking pink tablets.
Now, I'm the parent, and I dole out a garishly colored chewable multivitamin to my kids each morning. They, too, taste like fruity chalk and my kids fight over the purple ones. I could give them gummy bear-shaped ones instead, but those look too much like candy to me -- I have visions of my kids sneaking off to down an entire bottle, thinking they're treats.
I was thinking about this the other morning, white plastic vitamin bottle in hand, and I wondered: Do kids really need a multivitamin at all?
While the American Academy of Pediatrics does not officially recommend a daily multivitamin for children, they do recommend at 400 IU of vitamin D a day for children who don't drink milk and also 5 to 10 mg of iron for babies who are not breast-fed. And, as Dr. Sanja Gupta points out at CNN.com, "Although a daily multivitamin might not be offering your child a tremendous amount of benefit, it certainly is not hurting them." (Corrected to add that the AAP reccommendation about iron is for babies who are not breast-fed. -- LMA)
"I'd say there's some places where multivitamins are very appropriate for children," Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, a physician and former midwife who is a faculty member at the University of Arizona, told me during a recent teleconference on dietary supplements. "It depends on the child itself, the risks they have, their own diet. Breast-fed kids may need to take supplemental iron."
Ideally, children will get the nutrients they need from their diet. But every child -- and every family's situation -- is different. Also: picky eaters abound.
"As a clinician, when I'm talking to a mom about her child, it's really about what is the birth history, what are they eating, how old they are," Dr. Low Dog points out.
Is it worth it to buy fancy formulations? Not necessarily, she says. "Flintstones, Centrum, are very appropriate. Some children may need extra DHA as well -- it's found in fish. We should have 600 to 1,200 milligrams of Omega 3s in our diet, but there are a lot of children who don't eat any fish or don't like fish."
Experts caution that taking vitamin supplements is not a replacement for going to the doctor or taking medication as prescribed. And it's worth keeping in mind that the FDA doesn't actually regulate vitamins and supplements (though U.S. Pharmacopeia, a nonprofit, non-government organization, does set some standards for them).
Parents, do you give your kids a multivitamin each day? Why or why not?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. April is Autism Awareness Month; you can read her posts about autism here.