Multivitamins aimed at children ‘do not contain enough vitamin D’
Few multivitamins aimed at children and babies have the recommended level of vitamin D, according to new research.
While there is a huge range of vitamins on the market for parents to choose from, the vast majority contain far less than the correct dose, experts said.
Vitamin D is essential to prevent rickets, a condition that affects bone development in children and which can lead to the growth of soft, weak and deformed limbs.
It is difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet, and the main source is sunshine.
However, the weather in the UK means that there is limited exposure to sunlight from November to March.
Public Health England (PHE) recommends that children aged one to four receive a daily 10 microgram (400IU) vitamin D supplement.
Those aged under one should be given a 8.5 to 10 microgram daily vitamin D supplement to ensure they get enough.
In the new study, experts from the universities of Oxford and Southampton examined vitamins aimed at children sold by Asda, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Boots, Holland and Barrett, Lloyds Pharmacy and Superdrug.
In total, 67 multivitamin products made by 24 different manufacturers were included in the study.
The daily vitamin D dose in the vitamins ranged from zero to 800IU.
Only one multivitamin was suitable for use from birth and this supplied 200IU per day – around half the recommended amount.
For children under six months of age, only one multivitamin contained more than 340 IU/day vitamin D, but this was only recommended from four months of age.
For children over six months, just 25% to 36% of the available multivitamins provided the recommended 400IU per day of vitamin D, the experts said.
The researchers also looked at specific vitamin D products and vitamins marketed as being for healthy bones.
Of the 24 products that were available, the range of vitamin D in them was from 50 to 1,000IU.
Six products were suitable from birth, of which five contained 340 to 400IU per day – around the recommended amount.
Writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood journal, the authors concluded: “There is a wide range of both multivitamins and vitamin D supplements available for children in the UK, yet most of these do not provide the recommended 400 IU/day.
“Multivitamins typically had lower vitamin D content than pure vitamin D supplements or ‘healthy bones’ products, although some products labelled as ‘for bones’ contained very low levels of vitamin D.”
The team also looked at the Government’s Healthy Start scheme, which provides free multivitamins to low-income families, but these provide only 300IU per day of vitamin D.
The research comes after data analysed by the Press Association showed there were 101,136 hospital admissions with a main or secondary diagnosis of vitamin D deficiency in 2017/18 – 34% more than the 75,708 in 2016/17.
There were an additional 474 admissions in 2017/18 where the main or secondary reason was rickets, up from 445 the year before.
Almost all these cases were young children, with 332 admissions for rickets in children aged nine and under, up from 324 the year before.
A further 80 admissions for rickets were among those aged 10 to 19, up from 67 the year before.
Dr Benjamin Jacobs, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said: “A normal healthy UK diet provides less than 10% of the recommended amount of vitamin D.
“The natural way to obtain vitamin D is from sunlight, but there is inadequate exposure to sunlight in the UK so supplements are the only way to ensure UK children get the recommended dose.
“To learn that so many products fail to provide children with the recommended level of Vitamin D is highly concerning, especially when latest evidence shows our children’s average intake are still below the recommended amount.
“These products are misleading parents who think they are protecting their children from serious conditions such as rickets, poor growth and muscle weakness.
“I would advise all parents to check that the supplements they use contain the recommended 400 units of vitamin D and consult their pharmacist if they are unsure.”
He also said the Government should seriously consider fortifying some foods and milk with Vitamin D.
Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the industry-funded health and food supplements information service (HSIS), said: “Food supplements are meant to supplement the diet, not replace the nutrients obtained from foods.
“In that respect, and since there are varying recommendations across different age groups of children, it is right that different supplements offer different doses.
“Smaller doses allow parents to use the same product for younger and older children by varying the amount given.
“According to the most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey data, children and adolescents are only getting a fifth of the recommended vitamin D intake of 10 microgram from food alone.
“Many of the supplements in this survey would actually bridge the dietary gap topping up intake towards the recommended 10 microgram daily.”