Hand a kid a Flintstones vitamin and along with her vitamin C and thiamin, she?ll swallow hydrogenated vegetable oil, aspartame and a mix of artificial colors and flavors. More parents are reading labels, and when they see ingredients like these, they?re heading to the nearest natural products store for a cleaner alternative. In fact, in 2003, kids? vitamin sales increased 19 percent from 2002, to ring in at $14 million for the year, according to SPINS, a market research firm in San Francisco.
As children?s vitamins sales increase, so do the product offerings. Naturals manufacturers are rolling out gummy bears, gummy dolphins, chewy rhinos and liquids to please tots? taste buds, but without the potentially harmful ingredients in many mass products. Aside from shape and flavor, retailers should familiarize themselves with ingredients? differences, such as whether a product contains iron, gelatin or sugar, so they can help parents make a choice that?s right for their child.
To multi or not to multi
Many parents are confused about whether to give their children a daily multivitamin. Most government agencies make vague recommendations, as does the American Academy of Pediatrics, which suggests vitamins ?when a child is a poor eater or has erratic eating habits.? But since the Journal of the American Medical Association?s recommendation in 2002 that adults take a daily multivitamin, awareness about the importance of supplemented nutrition has been rising.
?With parents? busy lifestyles, the media and all the junk food around, it?s really hard to know if your child is getting all the vitamins and minerals he or she really needs,? says Diane Barsky, M.D., director of the pediatric feeding program at the Children?s Hospital of Philadelphia. Barsky believes a multivitamin is a good idea for children over the age of 2. Children older than 12 can usually switch to an adult multivitamin, she says.
Children who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet should be taking a good multivitamin, Barsky says. ?In the vegan diet, it?s hard to find good sources of iron, and B-12 virtually exists only in animal products.? She says more kids are showing vitamin D deficiencies because they are spending less time in the sun, are wearing more sunscreen and are getting less sunlight because of urban pollution. In her practice, Barsky encourages parents to avoid mass market vitamins filled with artificial ingredients. ?A lot of liberty is taken with mass market vitamins to get the right shape, color and texture,? she says.
Whether to include iron in children?s supplements is a controversial matter. Some experts feel that anything resembling candy should not contain iron, which is the leading cause of death in accidental poisonings among children. Barsky tells parents to treat vitamins like medicine?supervise dosage and keep them away from children.
Chewy, crunchy or liquid? With the wide variety of children?s multivitamins available, retailers should have no problem helping customers find a fit for their child?s needs and tastes.
Hauppauge, N.Y.-based Country Life?s Dolphin Pals contain pectin—and more sugar than other natural products—instead of gelatin to put the gummy in its sour gummies. ?It?s vegetarian, and with mad cow and stuff we are trying to make the products as pure as possible,? says education director Jason Mitchell.
?Our gummies have the complete B vitamin family,? he says. ?B vitamins are gateway nutrients that allow things to happen—carbohydrate metabolism, brain development—so they are incredibly valuable. Some companies leave out the B vitamins because it can affect taste,? he says.
The company opted to use Chromate, a branded chromium, because it?s a superior form, Mitchell says. The formula has Ester-C even though it?s more expensive, because it is buffered and better absorbed, Mitchell says. For color, black carrot juice, annatto and turmeric are used. The company chose not to include iron in its formula. ?We didn?t want to put [iron] in a candy-related item,? Mitchell says.
Leonia, N.J.-based Solgar decided to include iron in its Kangavites chewable multivitamins because it is an essential nutrient, says Jeff Whipple, spokesman for the company. ?All the Kangavites multivitamin formulas containing iron feature label warning information, as required by the [U.S.] Food and Drug Administration,? Whipple says. A one-tablet dosage for 2- to 3-year-olds contains 25 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance of iron, and a two-tablet dose for children 4 and older contains 28 percent of the RDA.
Each serving of Kangavites contains approximately 1 gram of sugar, ?which is lower than many popular ?grocery store? brands of children?s supplements,? Whipple says. They are sweetened with sucrose, fructose, mannitol and zylitol. Kangavites don?t contain any common allergens such as peanuts or peanut byproducts, and they contain no dairy. Fruit and vegetable powders are used for flavoring and color. Recognizing the need for quality children?s vitamins, the makers of Ola Loa effervescent vitamins recommend the product for children and plan to launch a children?s formula this year. ?Each one of our packets is replacing roughly a dozen vitamin pills,? says Greg Kunin, whose father, Richard Kunin, M.D., formulated the product and uses it in his practice. ?Parents are telling me it?s the first time they can actually get nutrients into their kids,? the father says.
Richard Kunin recommends a half or quarter packet of Ola Loa for children 2 and up, although he says the adult dosage of one packet of Ola Loa is safe even for young children. "Most children aren't going to drink a full cup of Ola Loa anyway," he says.
Better absorption is another reason parents might opt for a liquid, Richard Kunin says. ?It is estimated that up to 80 percent of the nutrient content of a pill can be lost,? he says. ?A lot of products out there wreak havoc on the teeth and are laced with sugars and dyes.? Ola Loa uses fructose for sweetener (1 gram of fructose from stevia) and has no effect on the glycemic response, so it?s safe for diabetics, the company says.
Richard Kunin also recommends Ola Loa for active teenagers. ?Kids are pushing their bodies in extreme ways, and getting them to take a handful of pills is not likely,? Greg Kunin says. Ola Loa quenches thirst and actually protects the cells from dehydration, the company says.
When helping parents choose a multivitamin, retailers should try to find a match between the child?s palate and what the parent feels comfortable with. A picky eater may turn his nose up at anything except for gummies, while his sister may prefer a crunchy chewable. Older kids may prefer a liquid that resembles Gatorade. One thing is sure: As more children?s products hit the shelves, choice will not be an issue.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 5/p. 34, 38