Dr. Charles Ison is a University of Kentucky graduate who has practiced in his hometown of Lexington since 1993. He is a partner in Pediatric and Adolescent Associates.
Vitamins are necessary for good health. They are substances that, along with certain essential minerals, we must get from our diets.
(Vitamin D is the one exception, since we can make it in our skin with exposure to sunlight.)
Vitamins can be packaged in various forms and given as a supplement to those found naturally in foods.
In these forms, they are often given to children to help ensure that they get their recommended daily allowance of these important compounds.
Is this necessary, though?
Infants get nearly all the vitamins and minerals they need for the first six months of life through human breast milk.
The one big exception is vitamin D. This nutrient is important for strong bones and proper muscle functioning.
In traditional societies, an infant would be carried around outside while his mother looked for fruits and vegetables.
This would allow him to make vitamin D in his skin.
Of course, in modern society this is not usually done. In this case, it is recommended that infants get 400 IU (International Units) of vitamin D a day. It comes in a liquid form for this purpose.
Infant formula already is fortified with vitamin D, as is most cows’ milk. Children 1 to 18 years of age should get 600 IU a day.
A little over half of all preschoolers in the U.S. take a daily multivitamin. This is often given because a child is perceived to be a picky eater.
In most situations, any given child is getting all the vitamins she needs from her diet.
Many foods are fortified with vitamins and minerals already (especially most breakfast cereals). Some vitamins and minerals are stored in the body so that they do not have to be consumed every day.
Toddlers, for instance, will balance out their nutritional needs over a two-week period instead of daily.
Although most children do not need vitamin supplements, there are exceptions. Those who are on special diets, such as a vegan diet, usually need them.
Certain chronic diseases where children cannot absorb the proper amounts of some vitamins may warrant their supplementation (cystic fibrosis or inflammatory bowel disease, for example).
A child with a delay in physical or developmental growth may also need supplementation.
Ironically, most children who take a daily multivitamin live in households where they tend to be fed a healthy diet already.
With a few exceptions, however, vitamins are not usually necessary.