You’re getting the message from every direction. Make sure your children are healthy and eating a balanced diet.
Are they getting enough water?
Have they had enough vegetables this week?
No pressure, right?
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably obsessively calculating how much nutrition you can pack into dinner to make up for ‘picky kid' eating throughout the day.
Or you could squeeze a bit of extra nutrition into your kids with gummy vitamins, right?
Well, as it turns out, gummy vitamins might not be as healthy as we’ve been led to believe.
Are Gummy Vitamins Healthy? Health Professionals Say No
Recently, Australian researchers, public health officials, and nutritionists looked at common gummy vitamins marketed to children. They found the companies made false health claims; the products contained too much sugar, and even increased the risk of tooth decay.
What Are Gummy Vitamins?
Multivitamins have long been marketed as a healthy way to ensure we get all the necessary nutrients. In recent years, more and more research has raised questions about the efficiency of getting nutrients via multivitamins.
It hasn’t always been easy to convince children to take vitamins – even the popular varieties. With advances in food science, some companies began to make multivitamins in the form of gummies.
Handing your children gummy bears is easy. You feel as if you’ve made a positive impact on their health, without a fight. It might be one of the best feelings you can have, as a parent.
But if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Some health professionals now say it is too good to be true.
Ken Harvey is Associate Professor of the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, at Monash University. He and his colleagues recently published an academic article on the subject.
It stated: “The ‘active’ ingredients are usually listed as vitamins, minerals and sometimes omega-3 fats and vegetable powders. They may say ‘contains sugars' or they may not. Rarely, some list an amount of sugar and other ingredients, such as food acids like citric acid, lactic acid and ascorbic acid.
“In our opinion, these products are unhealthy and exploitative. Their high sugar content may appeal to young children, but they’re not a good introduction to a healthy diet”.
Why Are Gummy Vitamins So Popular?
The simple answer could be ‘Toddlers'.
Toddlers are such fun little creatures. We start with breastfeeding, or formula feeding, then we introduce vegetables and fruit. Most of us don’t have to worry too much about whether our infants are getting adequate nutrition.
As they move from infants to toddlers, though, these fun creatures start to exert their will. That’s when many of us struggle to make sure our children get enough proper nutrition.
We live in a time when fun and tasty snacks abound. Add wilful toddlers, and busy lifestyles, and it’s not an easy task to get enough of the right kinds of food into your little one.
Toddlers become children, and children like easy, tasty snacks too. As parents, sometimes we just need something simple. We often choose something that makes it easier to give our children the nutrition they need. It’s even better when kids happily gobble it up.
Products marketed as healthy, and all natural – especially those that say, “support the immune system” or “great for growth” – tend to be easy sells. Most gummy vitamins are marketed as healthy supplements for children.
How Could Gummy Vitamins Be Bad?
It would be wonderful if two tiny gummies really could provide all the important nutrients our children need to stay healthy.
Although some supplements might have their place in health and wellness, unfortunately, gummy multivitamins don’t seem to be the magic products many parents are led to believe.
The first major concern for the Australian researchers was the marketing of a gummy (and therefore a sugar-based) vitamin as a healthy alternative to eating a balanced diet. Although the gummy vitamins contained some nutrition, the level of sugar wasn’t ideal, and certainly not suitable for toddlers just developing their eating habits.
A second concern was the significant issue of tooth decay in children.
“Dental caries are a significant Australian public health problem. In 2014-15, A$9.5 billion was spent on dental services in Australia, up from $6.1 billion in 2007–08. About 50% of children in Australia start primary school with largely untreated cavities. In Victoria, 7.1% of children aged under 12 have had a general anaesthetic for dental treatment”, wrote Harvey and his colleagues.
Gummies have exactly the form and texture for getting stuck to little teeth. This, combined with typical toddler diets is a simple recipe for caries (tooth decay).
Certainly, we don’t have enough evidence to blame a daily gummy vitamin for the dental health crisis. However, the concern here is there might not be much health benefit, but there could be added risk of tooth decay.
Sugars provide the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive, and produce acids that dissolve tooth enamel. As sugar intake increases, the rate of cavities also increases.
Although there isn’t enough evidence to say gummy vitamins definitely cause tooth decay, there is enough evidence to suggest parents need to weigh the benefits against the risks.
And in balance, there might not be enough evidence that gummy vitamins, or many vitamins in general, provide any extra nutrition to improve health.
Is Gummy Vitamin Advertising Misleading?
“In addition to the high and damaging sugar content, we argue these are exploitative products that mislead consumers about the benefit of dietary supplements”, the researchers concluded.
Popular gummy vitamin companies have made claims such as:
- Zinc can improve the eating habits of fussy eaters. However, there’s no widely accepted evidence zinc affects a child’s eating habits.
- Many brands which contain Omega 3 claim their product can support brain function, growth and development. However, the US Food and Drug Administration recommends consuming oily fish, as research has shown disappointing results for Omega 3 supplements.
Another complicating factor is the lack of regulation in terms of how a gummy vitamin is classified. Some brands class themselves as foods; others are classed as supplements. The exact amount of sugar is often not clearly stated on the label; this is an important factor to consider when you make a decision about children’s diet and health.
Misleading information and incomplete evidence aren’t unique to gummy vitamins.
You can also read Prenatal Multivitamins: Are They A Waste Of Money? Study Says Yes to learn more about prenatal vitamins.
If we aren’t sure there’s much health benefit in these popular multivitamins, is it worth the risks associated with increased sugar intake?
Harvey and his colleagues were quite clear. They found there to be absolutely no benefit, saying, “It is our view ‘gummies’ that contain food acids, and have a high sugar content, are not medicines consumers need, and their sale should be prohibited on public health grounds. At the very least, the amount of sugar (and the presence of food acids) should be disclosed.
“Gummy vitamins are unhealthy and exploitative products that mislead parents about the benefits of dietary supplements”.
If Children Are Picky Eaters, How Can We Be Sure They’re Healthy?
Making sure our children get adequate nutrition can sometimes feel like a full-time job. Often it feels like we’re caught in a cycle where we spend just as much time trying to convince them to eat food as we did in preparing it.
It would be lovely if we could simply rely on multivitamins as an insurance plan against picky eating. Unfortunately, the evidence isn’t there to show multivitamins offer a significant benefit.
If you have concerns about your child’s health, it’s important to talk with your child’s doctor, health nurse, or a registered dietician.
If you are planning ways to help your child get adequate nutrition, you might find these articles helpful:
- Toddler Meal Times A Stress? 11 Tips For Fussy Eaters
- Should Your Child Finish All Their Food? Study Into Overeating
If your child is taking gummy vitamins, it’s important to discuss their use with your child’s doctor and dentist. They can help you make an informed decision about the benefits and risks, and let you know what, if any, dietary or supplement changes might be necessary for your child’s health. If your doctor isn’t familiar with dietary changes, a nutritionist is an excellent resource for parents.