Parents of picky eaters are increasingly replacing vegetables with supplements. Doctors warn of real risks. | Wender Mind Kids

 Parents of picky eaters are increasingly replacing vegetables with supplements.  Doctors warn of real risks.
  • A recent survey found that half of all parents give their children something on a regular basis additions such as fish oil and probiotics.
  • Two parents told Insiders that they give their kids supplements based on high-carb lunches at school and help build a positive relationship with food.

As a personal trainer and nutritionist, father-of-two Frank Cammalleri takes mealtimes seriously. Dinner is an eclectic mix of carrots, collards and onions sautéed with chicken — an easy dish packed with protein and vitamins.

But his 10-year-old son not so much.

“My youngest, yeah, he was a bit fickle and a bit picky for my tastes,” Cammalleri told Insider. “Not quite what I expected.”

Cammalleri, concerned that his son wasn’t getting enough vitamins and nutrients from his diet, put him on a schedule of regular supplements a few years ago. “Wherever I see what he’s not eating, I try to fill that void,” the father said.

Cammalleri isn’t the only parent turning to supplements. U.S. consumption of dietary supplements is at an all-time high, and new survey data suggests parents are the top buyers.

A recent University of Michigan survey found that half of a nationally representative sample of 1,251 parents surveyed said they depended on dietary supplements, and a recent study from Germany found that the prevalence of medications and dietary supplements in children between 2014 and 2014 increased increased in 2019.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a third of children and adolescents take dietary supplements, citing nationwide survey data from 2018.

A child’s diet can affect their weight, bone density, vision, mood, and a host of other health indicators, and the Mayo Clinic recommends feeding children a nutrient-dense diet with limited added sugars and saturated fats.

Using supplements to achieve a balanced diet isn’t a bad idea, said Dr. Mona Amin, a certified executive pediatrician in Florida, who didn’t work with Cammalleri, Insider said. But, Amin added, it’s not something she would recommend lightly. Not only is there little to no evidence that many supplements work, there are real risks associated with some pills if you don’t get the dosage right, especially in children.

High-carb school lunches and a desire to develop a healthy relationship with food are pushing parents toward supplements

Christina Chandra, a freelance food and health The Vancouver, Canada-based author wants to provide her children with balanced meals while also teaching them to have a positive relationship with food — but the two goals coincided when they became picky eaters by the time they entered preschool.

Chandra’s daughter tried “every fruit under the sun” but couldn’t stand vegetables, and her son was the opposite. She also tries to let her kids eat whatever they want at birthday parties and at school.

So, Chandra started getting her kids on multivitamins when they started elementary school to make sure they were eating what they wanted while getting their nutrients.

“I’m not always going to force them to eat everything because I don’t want them to have this negative relationship with food,” Chandra told Insider. “In an ideal world, you’d eat an X amount of fruits and vegetables, as well as protein and calcium, [but] I see that doesn’t always happen.”

Cammalleri said he started his children on supplements after feeling school lunches weren’t enough for nutritious meals.

“I see their menu is mostly carbs,” Cammalleri said. “I think it prevents my kids from learning more than they should and what they can learn in school.”

Registered Dietitian Alyson Martinez told Insider she understands parents’ desire to give children supplements because “there is seldom a child who eats well at school lunch.” A recent study by Virginia Commonwealth University found that even school meals that meet federal nutritional guidelines fall short of the daily recommended calorie, calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber intakes for children.

But concerns about school lunches shouldn’t prompt parents to contact the supplements department directly, Martinez said: Kids can still meet their nutritional goals with breakfast, dinner, and snacks throughout the week.

A pediatrician’s warning to parents: Dietary supplements aren’t regulated, and you need to be careful about dosing

Amin said that ideally, healthy children just need a varied diet — or one with different fruits, vegetables, spices and probiotics — adequate sleep, hydration, exercise and time in the sun.

Pediatricians sometimes recommend a daily multivitamin for children who don’t like to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, Amin said.

“If a family genuinely believes they’ve done their research and want to give it, I’m not against it,” Amin told Insider. “I just want them to know that it’s something that’s going into their child’s body and that they want to weigh the benefits and risks of this situation.

However, since the dietary supplement industry is not regulated by the FDA, Amin warned that there are no regulations to ensure the product’s safety or even that it is effective. A 2017 Consumer Lab study found that nearly half of all gummy vitamins have significantly different nutrient levels than what’s listed on the label.

As for other popular supplements like vitamin D, magnesium, and fish oil, Amin said very few solid studies have been done to determine what dosage is right for children. Without this information, parents run the risk of overdosing their children on vitamins. For example, too much vitamin D can cause confusion and gastrointestinal problems, while vitamin A toxicity can lead to long-term bone and liver damage.

“When we don’t know something in the medical community, parents need to make their own decision, understand the benefits and risks, and understand the fact that the medical literature is incomplete,” Amin said.