Why supp, America? Top 5 reasons we do

The first large scale study to examine Americans' reasons for taking supplements finds that most do so to help their overall health. Supplement users are more likely to be healthier, wealthier and wiser about booze than their non-supping counterparts.

Why do nearly half of U.S. adults take some type of dietary supplement?

To be healthy.

Though this may not seem shocking, the survey reported in February's JAMA Internal Medicine is the first large scale effort to quantify the motivations behind American supplement consumption. Researchers found that the most commonly reported reasons for using supplements were to “improve” (45 percent) or “maintain” (33 percent) overall health.

For the study, called “Why U.S. Adults Use Dietary Supplements,” researchers culled data from a national sample of 12,000 adults from the 2007–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Women used calcium products for “bone health” (36 percent) while men were more apt to report using supplements for “heart health or to lower cholesterol” (18 percent). Adults over 60 were more likely than younger people to take supplements for site-specific reasons, like eye health, heart, bone and joint. Non-Hispanic whites use more supplements (54 percent) than Non-Hispanic blacks (38 percent) or Hispanics (33 percent).

Multivitamin-mineral products were the most popular supplements followed by calcium and omega-3 or fish oil supplements. Less than a quarter of products were used based on the advice of a health-care provider.

Compared with those who take no supplements, supplement users are more likely to be older, healthier, moderate (vs. heavy) alcohol users, and nonsmokers. Supplement users are more likely to report very good or excellent health, have health insurance and exercise more frequently than non-users.

In a much smaller study, “Users' Views of Dietary Supplements,” also recently reported in JAMA Internal Medicine, 1579 people were surveyed over the phone. Of the 38 percent of those people who reported using supplements, 41 percent said they did so “to feel better,” 41 percent did so “to improve overall energy,” 36 percent to “boost their immune systems,” 28 percent for “digestive issues” and 21 percent to “lower cholesterol.” Thirty six percent of those supplement users had not told their physician about their supplement use.

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