Do healthy children need vitamins?
Some children get all the vitamins they need from a healthy balanced diet containing protein from meat, suitable dairy products, fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. However some growing children, including those without a varied diet, may be lacking vitamins A and C. It can also be hard to get enough vitamin D just through diet and having too little vitamin D can put a child at risk of the bone condition rickets.
The NHS recommends that all children from six months to five years old are given special drops containing vitamins A, C and D.
New guidance was issued in the summer of 2016 recommending that children aged 4 and over should have supplements containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day during autumn and winter.
Children aged 1-4 years should have a 10 microgram vitamin D supplement every day all year round.
All babies under a year old should have a daily 8.5 to 10 microgram vitamin D supplement, even if they are breastfed exclusively up to around 6 months under official advice.
The guidelines are different for formula-fed children who have more than 500ml of infant formula a day. They don't need extra vitamin D because formula is already fortified with it.
For over-the-counter vitamins, be wary about giving a child too many vitamins, especially if they are taking several products which may duplicate the dose of some vitamins. Pharmacists can give advice if you have concerns.
Which children need vitamin supplements?
Children who may need some vitamin supplements include:
- Fussy eaters or those who aren't eating enough healthy foods
- Children with chronic medical conditions such as digestive absorption problems affecting nutrient absorption, especially if they're taking any medicines (make sure you talk to your child's doctor first before starting a supplement if your child is on medication)
- Very active children who play physically demanding sports
- Children who have too much fast-food or takeaway meals, convenience foods or processed foods
- Children on a vegetarian diet (they may need an iron supplement), a dairy-free diet (they may need a calcium supplement), or other restricted diet
- Children who drink a lot of fizzy drinks, which can affect levels of vitamins and minerals in the body.
Top vitamins for children
Vitamin A: This strengthens the immune system and helps with healthy eyesight. It can help their vision in dim light, and helps maintains healthy skin. Good food sources include dairy products, fortified spreads, carrots, sweet potatoes, swede, mango, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, cabbage and broccoli.
Vitamin C: This vitamin helps with the immune system and the absorption of iron. Good food sources include oranges, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes and peppers.
Vitamin D: This promotes healthy bones and teeth by helping the body absorb calcium. Children need the right balance of limited safe exposure to the sun and protection from its harmful rays. Vitamin D is only found naturally in a small number of foods, including eggs and oily fish.
If you do give vitamins to your children, consider these tips:
- Put vitamins away, well out of reach of children, so a child doesn't treat them like sweets.
- If your child is taking any medication, ask your child's GP or pharmacist about any drug interactions with some vitamins or minerals.
- Try a chewable vitamin if your child won't take a tablet or liquid supplement.