Objective: To report the prevalence of dietary supplement use in a random sample of US infants 4 to 24 months of age, and to compare demographic characteristics, usual nutrient intakes, and food patterns of supplement users and nonusers.
Design: Data from 24-hour recalls collected for the 2002 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study were analyzed. Recalls included nutrient contributions from dietary supplements as well as all foods and beverages. We estimated usual energy and nutrient intakes of supplement users and nonusers, as well as the prevalence of nutrient adequacy and excess in the two groups. We also compared demographic characteristics and food patterns of supplement users and nonusers and, for supplement users, estimated the proportion of total intake provided by foods and the proportion provided by supplements.
Subjects: A national random sample of 3,022 infants and toddlers age 4 to 24 months, including 430 vitamin and/or mineral supplement users and 2,592 nonusers.
Statistical analysis: We compared means, percentile distributions, and proportions by age and supplement subgroup, and applied the Dietary Reference Intakes to assess usual nutrient intakes. We conducted regression analysis to determine which population characteristics predict the use of dietary supplements in this population.
Results: Overall, 8% of infants age 4 to 5 months received some type of dietary supplement. The prevalence of supplement use increased with age, to 19% among infants 6 to 11 months and 31% among toddlers 12 to 24 months. The vast majority of supplement users (97%) received only one type of supplement, most commonly a multivitamin and/or mineral supplement. Vitamin/mineral supplement use among infants and toddlers was associated with being a first-born child and being reported by the primary caretaker as being a picky eater. Characteristics that were independent predictors of supplement use were living in the Northeast, being male, and living in a household with fewer children. We found no significant differences between supplement users and nonusers in mean daily intakes of nutrients or nutrient density from foods alone, and few differences in food consumption. Overall, the prevalence of inadequate intakes was low (<1% to 2%). However, 65% of supplement nonusers and 9% of supplement users had vitamin E intakes less than the Estimated Average Requirement. Excessive intakes (ie, intakes above the Tolerable Upper Intake Level) were noted for both supplement users and nonusers for vitamin A (97% and 15% of toddlers) and zinc (60% and 59% of older infants and 68% and 38% of toddlers) as well as for folate among supplement users (18% of toddlers).
Conclusions: Generally, healthy infants and toddlers can achieve recommended levels of intake from food alone. Dietetics professionals should encourage caregivers to use foods rather than supplements as the primary source of nutrients in children's diets. Vitamin and mineral supplements can help infants and toddlers with special nutrient needs or marginal intakes achieve adequate intakes, but care must be taken to ensure that supplements do not lead to excessive intakes. This is especially important for nutrients that are widely used as food fortificants, including vitamin A, zinc, and folate.