Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Badvertising: Do Children Need Multivitamins and Will Flintstones "Support Immunity"?

So to answer the first question regarding kids and whether or not they need or benefit from taking a daily multivitamin I turned to the medical literature.

Simply put, I was unable to find a single study, not one, that would suggest a need or a benefit to giving a growing healthy child a multivitamin. Full stop.

Now that doesn't necessarily mean that there can't be benefit, just that none has ever been proven or even suggested.

So given that there are no studies proving or even suggesting benefit, how is it that multivitamin marketers are allowed to publish advertisements like the one up above (that I pulled out of a Canadian parenting magazine)?

Moreover, what of the more specific claim of "Immunity Support", or if you look at the Flintstones' product line, "Brain Support", or "Bone Support"?

I sure couldn't find anything to hang an evidence based hat upon. Seems to me that vitamin fortified candy (the two recommended daily tiny gummies contain 3/4 of a teaspoon of sugar) shouldn't be allowed to market itself as healthy period, let alone when there's no actual evidence base that would support the claim.

But of course that's not on Flintstones and Bayer, that's on our government for allowing claims lacking in rigorous evidence to target parents who simply want the best for their children.

And in case it hasn't occurred to you, I must also point out that the fact that there aren't studies on the long term use of multivitamins in children means that not only are the benefits only theoretical, so too are the vitamins' presumed safety. We simply don't know what the long term outcomes of giving growing children multivitamins and supplements on top of their regular diets might be - especially given kids' regular diets these days include an increasingly vitamin fortified food supply - and speaking personally, that's not a science experiment I'm willing to sign my children up for.

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  1. Not to mention that they usually contain food colouring, aspartame other dubious ingredients. I wouldn't give my kids that much sugar, chemicals and food colouring personally.

  2. Rebecca8:17 am

    I despair for future generations - the seemingly inevitable decline of the human race, due to false advertising and processed food!

  3. Anonymous8:27 am

    And then you're being sooo healthy because you gave the kids their multivitamins, and took them yourself, that you can skip the vegetables tonight. After all, they've had their vitamins.

  4. Anonymous8:48 am

    Didn't a recent study show vitamin-taking adults died earlier than healthy diet-followers?

    1. I seem to remember that as well...

  5. Anonymous9:00 am

    I would caution against a widespread "no vitamin supplements" rule. I am a registered dietitian in northern Canada, and regularly see children with nutritional rickets as a direct result of a diet void of vitamin D (becasue of many reasons, largely food insecurity). I agree that the advertising in parenting magazines can be very misleading. Not only do they often promote poor evidence base, but also their advertising regularly undermines breastfeeding, the benefits of which we DO have evidence for!

    1. Anonymous11:35 am

      I agree. I too can see the benefit of vitamin supplements for some children. We don't all strive to get our kids to eat a healthy balanced diet. I am sure that the people reading this do, but not all parents do. It takes effort and time, and not all parents are willing or able to do that. That is reality. Many diets fall short, for whatever reason.
      I am a registered dietitian and I see many children who are not getting a balanced diet period. Of coarse my first approach is ALWAYS to council parents to choose real/whole foods, more home cooking, less processed foods (and I give plenty of ideas and suggestions to help make it easier and more affordable) but in reality many kid's nutrition is sub-par, despite all the encouragement, efforts from health professionals, and evidence out there that whole foods are best.

    2. Anonymous8:08 pm

      I take your point. However, I would imagine that the children who are at risk of deficiencies, and who might feasibly benefit from vitamin supplements, are also probably the ones whose parents are least likely to be able to afford them for their children.............

      It's likely middle class, well nourished kids who get the vitamins, which apparently, when surplus to requirements, are literally flushed down the toilet.

  6. I can only agree with that. From all the research I read, multivitamins are more likely to be detrimental than useful. For some people it would be good to remember that "supplement" is not another word for "substitute."

    BTW, the research looking into negative side effects, is a good bit more concrete than the highly theoretical papers multivitamin manufacturers base their claims on.

  7. Anonymous12:08 pm

    Vitamin D deficiency in children is common, see link.

    I give my son vitamin D and omega-3 supplements. In North America we eat a lot less fish than other countried and the benefits of omega-3 fats for brain development is well proven.

  8. And you had your son checked for a deficiency before you started him on those?

  9. The jury's still out on whether multi-vitamins are beneficial to anyone at all, including adults. It very well may be that a vitamin in pill form doesn't do anything for the body, not like a vitamin in real food would. I used to take one daily, thinking that it woldn't hurt... then I got into health freak mode and only took one on days that I didn't think I had enough of a variety of nutritious food. After a bout with IBS, I decided to stop taking it altogether. I do believe there is a psychological effect of "substitute" rather than "supplement," as others have pointed out. I take more care in what I eat nowadays, partly due to not taking a daily vitamin.

  10. I had never put any value into multi-vitamins, believing that a healthy diet was the best source of nutrition, but when my 2-year-old was catching one cold right after another, her pediatrician suggested a daily vitamin for immune support. So I gave it to her for several years even though I saw no difference in the number of colds she caught. In fact, this year has been the longest span of cold-free months and we haven't given her a vitamin in about a year. It's a shame when a parent falls prey to inaccurate marketing, but it's almost scary when a doctor does.

  11. Anonymous12:06 pm

    Of course, if your child eats properly, vitamins aren't needed but how can you be sure that this is happening. When a child goes to school with his lunch bag, how can you be sure that he eats what's in the bag and it is not thrown away. I know kids who hardly drink milk. How do they get the calcium needed to develop strong bones? Of course perfection means that everyone eats the proper foods but do they? In this hectic life, many parents are rushed in the morning before their kids go to school so the breakfast, which is considered the most important meal of the day, is nothing more than a calorie infused meal. Are vitamins then not then some sort of benefit for a growing child?