Though the fortification of foods with additional nutrients helps the health of American kids, their nutrition has holes as clear as the ones in fortified Cheerios, according to a new study.
A team of researchers at Cal-Poly State University in San Luis Obsipo, California used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to analyze the diets of 7,250 children and adolescents ages 2 to 18 years old, reports Reuters. They looked at the types of food kids ate and supplements they took and assessed the nutrient content of each food. Then they assessed how nutritionally adequate each kid's diet was by seeing whether it met Estimated Average Requirements (EAR). The EAR is the average daily nutrient intake level estimated to meet the requirement of half the healthy individuals in a particular group based on age or gender.
They found that without fortification, the diets of a large number of children would be nutritionally inadequate. With fortification, the picture's better, but not ideal.
"Foods with added nutrients (most notably breakfast cereals, enriched grain foods, fluid milks) supplied important amounts of many but not all vitamins and minerals in diets of U.S. children and adolescents," Louise Berner, a Cal Poly State food science and nutrition researcher who was on the team, told Reuters.
Even with the increased nutrients from fortified sources, a substantial percentage of kids still had intakes of vitamins A, C and D that were less than the EAR for their age and sex. On average, girls ages 14 to 18 years old were most likely to fall short of the EAR for their age, while boys and girls 2 to 8 years old had the lowest rates of inadequate nutrient intakes.
The study team found that fortified foods contributed half or more of the intakes of vitamin D, thiamin, and folate to children's diets; 20 to 47 percent of the intakes of vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, B-6, B-12, and iron; 12 to 18 percent of the intake of zinc; but only 4.5 to 6.6 percent of calcium.
In the past, research has indicated some consumers fear that fortified foods could lead to an overdose of nutrients. This study suggested this was not the case.
The research was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.