WASHINGTON (Reuters) - About a third of U.S. children ages 2 to 17 take a multivitamin or other vitamin or mineral supplement, but many of them may not need to, according to a study published on Monday.
And the children who may benefit the most from such supplements, including those with overall poor health or diet, may be the least likely to take them, the researchers wrote in the journal Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.
Dr. Ulfat Shaikh of the University of California Davis School of Medicine and colleagues analyzed government health survey data on 10,828 U.S. children ages 2 to 17.
About 34 percent took a multivitamin supplement or supplement with individual vitamins such as vitamin C or minerals such as iron or calcium in the past month.
Children who were reported to be the healthiest and most active with a balanced diet, greater access to health care and higher family income were more likely to take supplements, the researchers found.
Shaikh said many of the children who take vitamin supplements do not appear to need them because they are receiving adequate nutrition from the foods they eat.
"Our key findings were that in children and teenagers who seem to face the greatest risk for nutritional deficiencies, these were the groups that tend to actually use such supplements the least," Shaikh said in a telephone interview.
"And, in general, children and teenagers who face the least risks for such deficiencies tend to use them the most."
Children who may benefit from supplements include those with a poor diet, lower family income, too little exercise, obesity, overall poorer health and less access to health care, the researchers said.
Douglas MacKay of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a dietary supplement industry group, took issue with some of the researchers' conclusions.
"It comes as no surprise that those individuals who use vitamin and mineral supplements also engage in other healthy behaviors, such as trying to eat a well-balanced diet and being physically active," MacKay said by e-mail.
"Vitamin supplements are one component of a total health package and cannot be teased out of the overall wellness equation," MacKay added.
Editing by Maggie Fox and Mohammad Zargham