Are we feeding kids too many vitamins?

Check what is in your child's bowl of cereal

Children may be consuming too many vitamins and minerals by way of fortified foods such as cereal, according to a recent report published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

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Although consumers can read the daily value percentages set by the FDA on the cereal boxes, those percentages are based on adult recommendations and they have not been changed since 1968. According to the Institute of Medicine, children ages four to eight should consume less than 0.9 mg of vitamin A, 15 mg of niacin, and 12 mg of zinc daily.

For their report, researchers analyzed the nutrition labels of more than 1,500 breakfast cereals and found 115 contained a large percentage of the daily recommended value of vitamin A, zinc, and niacin (also known as vitamin B3) in each serving, which is usually defined as about three-quarters of a cup.

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Since most children consume about 2.5 servings of cereal in one sitting, they can meet or exceed the IOM recommendations for such vitamins before they consume any other foods.

Some of the "excessively fortified cereals" include bran flakes, wheat flakes, and raisin bran, according to EWG.

The study adds to existing research suggesting that children are consuming too much of the three components. A 2013 study found that 45% of U.S. children are consuming too much zinc, 13% consume too much vitamin A, and 8% consume too much niacin. When children take multivitamins, those rates soar higher, with 84% getting too much zinc and 72% getting too much vitamin A.

Consuming too many vitamins may cause gastrointestinal issues in the short-term. And in the long-term, it can cause liver, immune system, and skeletal damage, says Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician with Children's Medical Group in Atlanta.

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"Parents may want to look at their kids' favorite cereals and bars to check the fortification levels and cut back if they have concerns about the amounts—or any symptoms their child may have," says Shu.

EWG researchers recommend that parents not feed children more than the 25% of the adult daily value, especially if the child is also taking multivitamins (Schmidt, CNN Health, 6/25; Park, TIME, 6/24).

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