Objective: To determine the nature and prevalence of dietary supplement use among chronically ill children.
Design: This descriptive study used a self-report questionnaire.
Subjects: A convenience sample of parents of 505 chronically ill children and adolescents seen in subspecialty medical clinics in Salt Lake City, UT. The medical conditions studied included asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, cancer, liver and renal transplantations, seizures, and rheumatological and neurobehavioral disorders. Statistics Sample characteristics were described using frequencies, percentages, means, and standard deviations. chi 2 tests were used to compare sex, ethnicity, parental education level, and dietary supplement use variations among the various diagnostic categories. Analysis of variance with Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons was used to determine differences among diagnosis groups for continuous variables, and the Kruskal-Wallis test was used to test categorical variables.
Results: The population sampled was predominately white (88.5%), with a mean age of 9.9+/-5.3 years. Sixty-two percent of the population used dietary supplements, and 30% used nonprescribed supplements. Significant differences were noted among diagnosis groups, with the highest nonprescribed use reported in children with cancer (solid tumors=46%; leukemia=44%), cystic fibrosis (35%), neurobehavioral disorders (35%), and rheumatological disorders (34%). Only 20% of those using nonprescribed dietary supplements had discussed this use with the health care provider.
Conclusions: Dietary supplement use is prevalent among chronically ill children, especially among those with a poor prognosis or for whom there are limited medical treatments. Few pediatric health care providers are aware of their patients' use of nonprescribed supplements. This is a concern because of the unknown effects of many supplements on growth and development and the potential for adverse drug interactions.