ABDs Of Infant Asthma?
The government survey's population was designed to include more minorities and other traditionally medically underserved groups, Milner said, so that NCHS could determine how health care was being delivered and used by those groups. African Americans made up 51 percent of participants, and 46 percent were white. About 50 percent of the group reported annual household incomes of less than $20,000, and 24 percent of the babies involved in the study had been born prematurely.
The surveys asked mothers how often and at what age they gave their children multivitamin supplements. Thirty-two percent reported giving their babies vitamins at least three times a week for at least a month before 3 months of age, 41 percent before 6 months of age and 42 percent supplemented at 3 years of age.
Some parents give their children multivitamin supplements because they are the only liquid sources of vitamin D.
"That's the only way it [vitamin D] comes in our country," said Frank Greer, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) committee on nutrition. "It comes in a solution usually with vitamins A and B."
Vitamin D is synthesized by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. But the fear of skin cancer often causes parents to keep their children out of direct sunlight, and to cover them in sunscreen -- which decreases vitamin D production -- when they are outside.
People with darker skin pigmentation don't absorb vitamin D from the sun as well as those with lighter skin tones. This makes rates of rickets -- a rare childhood disease involving bone softening and weakening that is caused by vitamin D deficiency -- higher among black children, Milner said.
AAP has not issued guidelines for using multivitamin supplements. But in an effort to cut rickets risk, the group recommended in 2003 that all infants take in a minimum of 200 international units of vitamin D per day beginning at 2 months of age.
Doctors often recommend multivitamin supplementation for children who are breast-fed (vitamin D is very low in breast milk) or have chronic illnesses.
Still, parents of healthy, formula-fed babies (infant formula is enriched with vitamins) often use multivitamin supplements without a doctor's recommendation. Milner recommends that parents talk with their children's pediatrician if they have questions about using multivitamins.
"For the most part, doctors don't tell people to give their children multivitamins," he said. "My guess is that the majority of multivitamins that are given is because parents feel like it will make their child healthier. But it isn't really known what risks there are." •
© 2004 The Washington Post Company