Do dietary supplements help or hurt children?

The rate of U.S. children and adolescents who take dietary supplements has remained consistent at about a third over the last decade, largely reflecting the use of multivitamins, according to a recent analysis published in <i>JAMA Pediatrics</i>.

The rate of U.S. children and adolescents who take dietary supplements has remained consistent at about a third over the last decade, largely reflecting the use of multivitamins, according to a recent analysis published in <i>JAMA Pediatrics</i>. However, the rate of children taking alternative or herbal supplements in the country has nearly doubled to 6.3% between 2003 and 2014. That uptick is due in part to melatonin, used to aid sleep, and omega-3 fatty acids, which often are given to children with ADHD and autism despite limited proof that they help. Some experts say such supplements are not harmful but have no demonstrated health benefits for children, while others warn there is some evidence that they pose risks to adults. Healthy children who eat a balanced diet do not need vitamins, according to experts. "These treatments add complexity and cost to patient regimens with little or nothing to gain," says Caleb Alexander, a coauthor of the analysis and codirector of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness. Supplements are also loosely regulated by FDA, so manufacturers do not have to demonstrate their safety or effectiveness. Bodybuilding supplements, used by 3% of boys and 1.3% of girls, are worrisome as they have occasionally been linked to cardiac problems, Alexander says.