The Scoop on Children's Vitamins

Vitamins are generally thought of as a good thing. They give people more of the stuff they need. Right? Well, that depends on the vitamin, as well as on the age of the person taking it.

Before you give vitamins to your child, you should, of course, consult your pediatrician or a poison control hotline. However, there are some general guidelines available online.

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According the American Academy of Pediatrics, most children should take vitamin D supplements. However, parents should be careful not to overdo it. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble, and any excess is stored in the child's tissues. Too much of these vitamins could make the child sick.

Vitamin A can also be toxic of taken in large doses. According to the "Today" show's resident nutritionist Joy Bauer, "Chronic intake of excessive amounts through fortified food and supplements can cause big problems." Ditto for zinc. "Too much zinc can depress your immune system and lead to a copper deficiency."

As WebMD puts it, if you give your child low-fat milk and dairy products, protein (like chicken and fish), fresh fruits and veggies, and whole grains (try brown rice or oatmeal), he or she probably won't need a vitamin. But giving your kid a perfectly balanced meal every day may not always be possible Additionally, children who follow a vegetarian diet may need supplemental vitamins B12 and D, riboflavin, and calcium.

When it comes iron, kids who don't get enough can suffer from anemia, "a condition that limits the ability of the blood to carry oxygen" according to "Drinking large quantities of milk may lead to iron deficiency anemia, as the child will be less interested in other foods, some of which are potential sources of iron." If your kid is downing24 to 32 ounces of milk or less each day, "there's little cause for concern."

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Bauer writes that parents should consider the kid. If the child is a picky eater, a multivitamin might be a good thing. However, if he or she is eating a well-rounded diet, then a multivitamin probably isn't needed. She points out that parents should keep vitamins out of their kids' reach, especially because some children's vitamins look and taste like candy, and they can be toxic in large doses.

Also, if you do give your children vitamins, be sure to pay extra attention to their teeth. Many kids' vitamins, especially chewable multivitamins, contain sugar.

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Bottom line: Opinions on vitamins vary, and you should consult an expert. Keep in mind that your child is probably getting more vitamins and minerals through his or her diet than you might think. And, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the income level of parents often plays a part. Wealthier parents are able to provide better food and, as a consequence, more natural nutrition. Lower income families may be more likely to need a children's multivitamin.