Many of us remember the times when our parents would force feed us vitamins shaped like our favorite cartoon characters — they still tasted pretty bad. While it’s important for kids to get their vitamins, a new study finds that kids may be getting too much, through both these vitamins and fortified foods like breakfast cereals.
The study was conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental and health research and advocacy group. Their findings echo previous studies, which have found troubling practices among vitamin-taking kids around the country. One Institute of Medicine study from January found that kids were consuming between 300 and 900 percent more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA). Among these vitamins were the same ones EWG determined kids were eating excessively as well — vitamin A, zinc, and niacin.
EWG said that “millions of children are ingesting potentially unhealthy amounts of” these vitamins, which were inside many cereals fortified for adult consumption, USA Today reported. The effects of vitamin overconsumption are then exacerbated, because children tend to eat more than one serving and frequently eat fortified snack bars. What’s more, cereal makers are taking advantage of nutritional label rules to mislead consumers, who are enticed by these added nutrients, which they normally wouldn’t consume through, say, fruits and vegetables.
The organization looked at the nutrition labels of 1,556 breakfast cereals and 1,025 snack and energy bars. They found that 114 cereals — these included General Mills Total Raisin Bran and Kellogg's Cocoa Krispies — had concerning levels of added nutrients.
In all, these cereals contained 30 percent or more of the adult Daily Value (DV) of one of the aforementioned vitamins. Some cereals even had two of the vitamins at 30 percent or more of the DV. Meanwhile, 23 cereals had levels higher than what was considered safe for kids under 8 years old. When it came to energy and snack bars, 27 of them were 50 percent over the adult DV in one or more nutrients.
When EWG accounted for kids who are taking supplements as well as those who aren’t, it calculated that as many as “10 million American children are getting too much vitamin A; more than 13 million get too much zinc; and nearly five million get too much niacin.” Overexposure to these nutrients can be dangerous, with extra vitamin A contributing to liver damage and skeletal abnormalities, among other things, and high zinc consumption hindering immune function.
EWG claims that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to blame for at least part of the problem. It’s been over 40 years since nutrition labels have been updated, and many food makers only use the nutrition label for adult reference, neglecting to include DVs for kids, infants, and pregnant women. “In order to protect children from the risks of excessive intake of fortified nutrients, it is urgent to update the dietary values used for nutrition labeling to reflect the latest science,” the organization wrote. “It is also important for Nutrition Facts labels to list the actual amounts of micronutrients added, rather than only the percent Daily Values, since dietary needs vary significantly by age and gender. A single set of dietary values cannot address this diversity.”
In response to the study, the FDA said that proposed DVs for infants, ages 7 to 12 months, and children, ages 1 to 3, are in the works. Kids who are older won’t get new labels, however, “because they consume the same foods as the general population,” and the FDA “is not aware of foods that are sold specifically for this age group,” USA Today reported.