Good nutrition sets the stage for children's health now and later in life. Poor dietary habits or lack of access to appropriate nutrients can cause deficiencies of vitamins and minerals. These deficiencies put children at risk for developmental problems. It can also make it more difficult for them to fight off infection and avoid illness. Some vitamin and mineral deficiencies in children can cause long-term damage. Children with iron or iodine deficiencies during infancy and early childhood are at greater risk for brain damage, learning difficulties and other problems with growth and development.
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A child's brain is particularly sensitive to micronutrient deficiencies because it is still developing. Poor nutrition during this critical period can impact a child's mental and physical development for the rest of their lives. One type of fat, called long-chain omega-3 is vital for healthy brain development. That's why some children's multivitamin formulations contain DHA, a type of long-chain omega-3. Some research suggests that kids who take a children's multivitamin supplement perform better on cognitive tests.
Certain children may be at higher risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Those with medical conditions that affect vitamin and mineral absorption have difficulty in getting an adequate amount of micronutrients through diet alone. Some children have food allergies that limit the types of foods they can eat and may impact their supply of essential vitamins and minerals. Children who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet may be at greater risk for deficiency of iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B12. Some children don't have medical problems that put them at risk for deficiencies – they're simply picky eaters and may be at higher risk for vitamin and mineral deficiency.
Another vitamin that's believed by many doctors to be vital for the health of infants and children is vitamin D. Breast-fed babies are considered to be at high risk for vitamin D deficiency because they don't drink milk or formula fortified with vitamin D. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants and children get 400 international units of vitamin D a day and recommends that infants take an oral vitamin D supplement if they drink less than a liter of infant formula daily to reduce the risk of vitamin D deficiency. The AAP states that infants that are born pre-term have higher requirements for vitamin D and calcium and recommends supplementation for this population as well. Infants, toddlers and children should never be given an adult multivitamin because they are not formulated to address their dietary needs. There are vitamin formulations made specifically for the special needs of infants and children. Children's multivitamins also come in a form that infants and children can easily take – drops, chewables and even gummy bears. As always, talk to your child's doctor about your child's nutritional needs and about whether your child would benefit from taking a multivitamin.