Do All Kids Need to Take Vitamins?

What You Need to Know About Children's Vitamins and Supplements

Happy healthy food,happy child with fruit. Credit: Esthermm / Getty Images

All children need vitamins and minerals in order to be healthy and develop adequately. Vitamin D, iron, calcium, fluoride and a multitude of other vitamins and minerals must be a regular part of a child's diet, or they will eventually develop a deficiency. Provided that a child is eating a well-balanced diet that consists of fresh, real foods, there is usually no need for a child to take a vitamin supplement.

When a Child Does Need a Vitamin

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "healthy children receiving a normal, well-balanced diet do not need vitamin supplementation." They should be able to get the recommended daily allowances of all of the vitamins and minerals they need from their diet.

But of course some children don't eat "a normal, well-balanced diet." If you think your child may need a vitamin supplement, talk to your doctor first, especially if your child:

  • is a very picky eater (multivitamin and mineral supplement).
  • is missing out on one or more food groups from the (new) food pyramid, such as vegetables or meat (multivitamin).
  • doesn't drink enough milk or eat other dairy products (vitamin D and calcium).
  • drinks too much milk and not enough other foods (iron).
  • consumes a vegan diet (may need vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, calcium, and zinc if they don't consume enough through fortified foods).
  • consumes a lot of junk food (multivitamin and mineral supplement).
  • doesn't drink fluoridated water (fluoride).
  • has a medical condition, such as short bowel syndrome, malabsorption or cystic fibrosis, that could lead to problems absorbing vitamins and minerals from the foods they eat (multivitamin and/or mineral supplements).
  • is taking certain anti-seizure medications (vitamin D).
  • is on a restricted diet due to multiple food allergies or a medical condition.

If a child needs a vitamin, most kids can take a daily children's multivitamin that contains the recommended daily allowance of all of the vitamins and minerals they may need, including vitamins A, C, D and K, the B vitamins, iron, and calcium.

Keep in mind that not all multivitamins contain the same number of vitamins and minerals. For example, Centrum Kids Chewables Multivitamin has 23 different vitamins and minerals; other multivitamins, especially gummy vitamins, only have nine.

If you're giving your kids a vitamin supplement, be sure that it actually includes the vitamins and minerals that they need. And you don't necessarily need to give your child a multivitamin if he or she is only missing one or a few vitamins or minerals, like iron, vitamin D or calcium. Find a supplement that contains only the specific vitamins or minerals your child needs instead.

Thinking Beyond Multivitamins

A multivitamin is just one piece of the puzzle. There is a range of vitamins and supplements for kids, including:

  • Fish oil. The food pyramid recommends that kids eat "fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring," because fish oil may help prevent coronary artery disease. Because many kids don't eat fish, and the fact that fish oil may also promote brain development and prevent disease, many parents give their kids a high omega-3 fish oil supplement with DHA and EPA. Although fish oil is not thought to be harmful to kids, it's a little controversial, as not all studies have shown that it has any benefit.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that helps children develop strong bones and protects adults from developing osteoporosis (weak bones that break easily). That makes it incredibly important for kids to take a vitamin D supplement with 400 IU of vitamin D if they aren't getting enough foods in their diet that are fortified with vitamin D. Most children don't need higher doses of vitamin D, however, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that those who do need vitamin D should have their levels checked.
  • Gummy vitamins. Parents often give their kids gummy vitamins because these are the only type of vitamins that their kids will take. It's easy to understand why, as many 'gummies' are like candy. In fact, one gummy vitamin is Jolly Rancher flavored. It's important to keep these types of vitamins out of your kids' reach so that they don't take more than the recommended amount and get an overdose of vitamins. Keep in mind that gummy vitamins don't have iron, an important mineral that many kids who take supplements usually need, and most don't have calcium.
  • Vitamin C. Almost all vitamins for kids, whether they are chewable multivitamins or gummy vitamins, are going to include vitamin C. Most kids, even the pickiest eaters, get enough vitamin C in their diet, as most fruit juices contain 100 percent of your daily requirements of vitamin C in a single serving. But what about megadoses of vitamin C for kids? Although some parents use extra vitamin C as a preventative for colds, this is controversial and most experts don't recommend it.
  • Antioxidants (Vitamins A, C, and E). As with vitamin C, some parents give other antioxidants - vitamins A and E - to their kids as immunity boosters. These have no proven benefits either. Also, keep in mind that many foods are now fortified with vitamins A, C and E.

Other Supplements for Kids

There are other supplements that aren't vitamins or minerals that many parents give their kids, including:

  • Fiber. Many kids, especially those that don't eat fruits and vegetables, likely don't get enough fiber in their diet. The latest recommendations are that kids should eat about 14g grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories they eat. Those with a low fiber diet often have problems with constipation and stomach pains. If your child doesn't get enough fiber by eating high-fiber foods, they could benefit from a fiber supplement such as Benefiber, Citrucel or Metamucil. There are even fiber gummies for younger kids.
  • Probiotics. Another popular supplement for kids are probiotics such as Culturelle for Kids and FlorastorKids. Probiotics, which are also found in many types yogurt, are thought to work by modifying the number of bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby increasing the number of beneficial gut bacteria and preventing the growth and overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Keep in mind that except for use in kids with acute diarrhea, like from a stomach virus, they have no real proven benefit so far, so you might want to wait until more research is done before offering probiotics to your kids on a regular basis.

Talk to your doctor before giving your child any vitamins, minerals or other supplements.

Vitamins for Kids: The Takeaway

Should you give your kids extra vitamins and minerals or other supplements? If they need them, then sure. For example, toddlers who are such picky eaters that they are totally missing out on some food groups probably need a multivitamin, teens who don't drink milk need vitamin D and calcium supplements and kids who are constipated will benefit from extra fiber supplements.

The benefits of many other supplements, such as probiotics, antioxidants, fish oil and extra vitamin C, are less clear-cut, but they help to reassure parents that they are doing something healthy.

To make an informed decision about supplements, also keep in mind that:

  • Gummy vitamins, which are very popular with parents and kids, usually don't have iron or calcium: two minerals that many kids actually need.
  • Many children's vitamins, even "complete" multivitamins with calcium, don't contain very much calcium (usually 10 to 20 percent of daily requirements). A more specific calcium supplement, like Tums Kids Antacid/Calcium Supplement, would be more helpful if your kids don't eat or drink enough calcium-rich foods.
  • Large amounts of certain vitamins, including vitamins A, C, and D, can lead to serious side effects. Talk to your pediatrician if you are thinking of giving extra doses of any vitamin or mineral to your kids.
  • Some powdered drink mixes, such as Carnation Instant Breakfast Mix, can add extra calcium, iron and other important vitamins and minerals to a glass of milk, in addition to giving your kids some extra protein and calories. They can be a good alternative for kids who need vitamin supplements but won't regularly take vitamins.
  • Although there are many vitamins and vegetable and fruit juices that claim to give your kids a full serving of vegetables in a pill, gummy, or glass, they usually don't have any fiber. Consider a fiber supplement if these are the main sources of fruits and vegetables that your kids get unless they are drinking a high fiber, 100 percent vegetable juice, and other high fiber foods.


American Academy of Pediatrics. Clinical Report. Prevention of Rickets and Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants, Children, and Adolescents. Pediatrics 2008 122: 1142-1152.

American Academy of Pediatrics. Where We Stand: Vitamins. Updated June 2010. Accessed July 2010.

Jenkins DJ. Are dietary recommendations for the use of fish oils sustainable?. CMAJ - 17-MAR-2009; 180(6): 633-7

Kliegman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed.

Mahalanabis, D. Antioxidant vitamins E and C as adjunct therapy of severe acute lower-respiratory infection in infants and young children: a randomized controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr - 01-MAY-2006; 60(5): 673-80.

Sethuraman, Usha MD. Vitamins. Pediatrics in Review. 2006;27:44-55.

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