Should children take an adult multivitamin?
What is nutrition?
Nutrition is the use of food to ensure the growth, survival, and normal functioning of body tissues and organs. In nutrition, the keyword is balance. In fact, both excess and deficiency cause problems.
Childhood, a period of intense growth
Childhood is defined as a period when the body’s needs are greater. During this period, the maturation of the different parts of the body and growth is important. Good nutrition guarantees regular and harmonious development.
A child is not a miniature adult
We might think that from a nutritional point of view, a child is defined as a smaller adult. The reality shows the absurdity of this observation. The water and food needs of a child are different from those of an adult. Thus, between birth and 1 year old, a child’s height increases by 50%. At only 4 years old, the birth weight will have been multiplied by 5 or 6. The needs of children are different and must be adapted.
Specific needs of children?
What are nutritional requirements?
Nutritional needs are daily values calculated for each nutrient (vitamins and minerals). These are derived from the food consumed during the day. The nutritional requirements are established and adjusted according to specific categories of people (woman/man, age, …). In Europe, these reference values give precise indications on the quantities of nutrients necessary for the proper functioning of the organs, whether for growth, development, or metabolism.
Some common deficiencies in children
Calcium is an important mineral for bone mineralization. During childhood, a high calcium intake guarantees optimal bone density at the end of growth, and thus reduced risks of fractures in adulthood.
Vitamin D optimizes the assimilation of calcium. It is also the vitamin with the lowest levels in children, especially at the end of winter. Indeed, the body synthesizes this vitamin following exposure to sunlight. However, in Belgium, the link between winter and sunshine is not easily established. In the summer, covering clothes prevent an efficient synthesis of vitamin D. The food allows to complete the contributions. The health authorities recommend an intake of at least 10 µg per day until the end of growth.
Iron is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in children in industrialized countries. During the first three years of life, iron deficiency affects between 20 and 30% of children. The health authorities, therefore, recommend 7 mg of iron for children aged 1 to 10 years.
Vitamin B12 is at risk of deficiency in all children who do not consume foods of animal origin. A lack of vitamin B12 leads to significant neurological risks. Indeed, only animal products provide the body with the essential amino acids it needs. Remember that amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.
Zinc deficiency causes developmental delays during puberty in adolescents, as well as slowed growth in height and weight. For children aged 4 to 9 years, the recommended intake of zinc is 7 mg per day and 12 mg per day for children over 10 years.
A varied and balanced diet is the key to success
Not always enough food
For the body to function optimally, food must cover its vitamin and mineral needs. A rich and diversified diet is the way to go. However, this may not be sufficient, for example, for children with several food allergies or following specific diets (e.g., vegetarian diet). In addition, children are not always fond of fruits and vegetables or foods such as fish, which are very rich in nutrients.
Dietary supplements to support them
As the name suggests, food supplements are not intended to replace food, but to complement it. Their interests are multiple: from a health point of view, they provide the nutrients involved in the proper functioning of the immune system, for digestion, but also at the level of memory. From a well-being point of view, providing specific nutrients, allow for an energetic contribution and a reduction in fatigue.
Childhood is a period of growth and development that is hard on the body. Adopting a varied and balanced diet allows us to provide all the nutrients necessary for the proper functioning of the body. A child’s needs differ from those of an adult, both in terms of quantities and nutrients.
Key take-home messages
- Nutrition ensures normal growth and body function
- Childhood is a period of organ maturation and consequent growth
- A child’s water and food needs are different from those of an adult
- Some nutrients are more likely to be lacking in children’s daily intake, such as vitamin D and zinc
- De Ridder et al., Enquête de consommation alimentaire 2014-2015, Institut scientifique de santé publique, 2016
- Ecole de la nutrition, Les besoins nutritionnels : dénutrition chez l’enfant
- Office de la Naissance et de l’Enfance, Enfant et nutrition, Guide à l’usage des professionnels, 2009