The argument over children's vitamins is about the same as for adults: Experts say there's no clear-cut evidence for or against them. Jay Hoecker, M.D., an emeritus consultant in the department of pediatric and adolescent medicine at the Mayo Clinic, says children's nutrient needs aren't as high as adults', so never give your child an adult multivitamin. The higher amounts of nutrients in adult formulas can be harmful or fatal to kids, especially if they contain iron. Children's needs also vary by age. For example, 1- to 3-year-olds need 700 mg of calcium daily, whereas 4- to 8-year-olds should aim for 1,000 mg per day. The best guideline is to follow your pediatrician's recommendations.
ConsumerLab.com's latest review of four children's multivitamins rates all brands as approved -- labels are accurate, contaminants are low and time to dissolve is acceptable -- although two brands exceed upper limits for some ingredients. Nature's Plus Source of Life Animal Parade Children's Chewable Multi-Vitamin and Mineral Supplement exceeds the UL for niacin for ages 1 to 8, and Hero Nutritionals Yummi Bears exceeds the UL for vitamin A and zinc for ages 1 to 3 at the recommended serving size of three gummies per day.
By contrast, Flintstones Plus Bone Building Support Chewables (*Est. $7 for 60 tablets) contains 400 IU of vitamin D and 200 mg of calcium per serving, which delivers less than the recommended amounts. Children 2 to 3 years old should take one-half tablet daily, while those 4 and up should get one tablet daily. It's recommended the supplement be taken with food. One chewable tablet provides 2,500 IU of vitamin A, 60 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin D, 300 mcg of folic acid and 4.5 mcg of vitamin B12, in addition to other vitamins and minerals.
In an older test of kids' multivitamins by ConsumerLab.com, Flintstones Gummies (*Est. $8 for 60 gummies) came out on top because it was the only multi that didn't exceed tolerable intake levels for vitamin A as retinol. Flintstones is the top-rated brand in a 2010 survey of thousands of pharmacists conducted by Pharmacy Times. Reviewers at Drugstore.com say Flintstones vitamins are perfect for kids who refuse to swallow pills, since they look and taste like gummy candies and appeal to children who might otherwise shy away from taking their vitamins.
Two- and 3-year-olds should take one Flintstone gummy per day, and children 4 and up should have two. Flintstones Gummies also perform well in the FDA's test of lead in multivitamins. Although nearly all the multis evaluated contain some trace of lead, these gummies have only 0.0167 mcg of lead per daily serving -- far below the provisional total tolerable intake (PTTI) levels of 6 mcg per day for children under the age of 6. Two gummies provide 2,000 IU of vitamin A, 30 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin D, 200 mcg of folic acid and 3 mcg of vitamin B12, in addition to other vitamins and minerals. They don't contain calcium, so Flintstones Plus Bone Building Support Gummies may be a better alternative for children who don't like dairy products.
Store-brand multivitamins perform just as well in independent tests as their name-brand counterparts, and typically cost significantly less. ConsumerReports.org tests and approves a variety of store-brand kids' multis, including Costco's Kirkland Signature Sugar Free Children's Chewable (*Est. $16 for 300 tablets), Walmart's Equate Children's Complete (*Est. $5.50 for 60 tablets) and Target's Up&Up Children's Gummy Multivitamin (*Est. $4.50 for 60 tablets). These store brands contain the nutrients they claim and dissolve just as well as pricier name brands.
Centrum and One-A-Day also offer children's formulas. Centrum Kids Complete (*Est. $14 for 180 tablets) and One-A-Day Kids Jolly Rancher Multivitamin Gummies (*Est. $7.50 for 60 gummies) have label directions based on age group. The nutrient amounts are similar, with the exception of vitamin K, iron and added minerals such as manganese, chromium and molybdenum in Centrum. Experts say these extras probably aren't necessary and only add to the total cost. The Centrum Kids multi comes in sweetened, chewable cartoon shapes, while the One-A-Day Kids is available in chewable gummies.
Some natural health experts are concerned about specific ingredients in children's multivitamins. Joseph Mercola, D.O., an osteopathic physician, highlights several on his website, including the artificial sweetener aspartame, synthetic food colorings and hydrogenated vegetable oil, which can contain trans fat. He urges parents to look for vitamins without these ingredients, but it should be noted that he also plugs his own product, Dr. Mercola Children's Chewables Multivitamin (*Est. $45 for 180 tablets). Unfortunately, this multivitamin hasn't been tested by ConsumerLab.com or ConsumerReports.org.
Sold at Trader Joe's stores, Trader Darwin's Children's Chewable Vitamins were tested by ConsumerLab.com in its 2010 review. Results show that the multis exceed the UL for niacin and contain 5,000 IU of vitamin A as retinol, which is higher than the upper intake level of 3,000 IU.
If you decide to supplement your child's diet, treat multivitamins as you would any medication: Make sure the container is childproof and never give your child more than the recommended dose. A 2006 article published in the journal Pediatrics looked at the risk of vitamin A toxicity from "candy-like chewable vitamin supplements" designed for children. An overdose of vitamin A can lead to headaches, blurry vision, vomiting and hair loss. Overall, researchers say these vitamins must be "treated with extreme care when at home."