Getty Images; Illustration by Marisa Gertz for TIME
By Alexandra Sifferlin
June 18, 2018

A third of kids and adolescents under age 19 regularly take supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, multivitamins and melatonin, according to a new report. It’s a finding that researchers say is concerning because there is no proven benefit for healthy children taking supplements.

The report, published Monday as a research letter in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, found that overall about a third of the young people surveyed used dietary supplements, with multivitamins being the most common. Use of supplements that primarily contained vitamins and minerals remained stable over time, but use of herbal, non-vitamin, or non-mineral supplements increased, driven by the use of melatonin for sleep and omega-3s.

Report author Dima M. Qato, an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy Systems, Outcomes and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says parents should avoid giving their kids supplements if they do not have any nutritional deficiencies.

“Dietary supplements have no proven benefits in healthy kids and have some known risks,” says Qato. “They are not strictly regulated and the quality of products is questionable.” The researchers say that the use of supplements among young people is concerning, since some of these products, like muscle building supplements, iron, calcium and vitamin D have been shown to be associated with heart-related health problems in some cases.

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Young girls and women were more likely to report using iron, calcium, multivitamins and vitamin B. Young boys and men were more likely to report using omega-3 fatty acids and body building supplements.

The report looked at national survey data on supplement use among 4,404 children and adolescents from 2003 to 2014. If kids were younger than age 16, their parents filled out the surveys. The kids or parents were asked if they had “used or taken any vitamins, minerals, herbals, or other dietary supplements in the past 30 days.” If the children or their parents said yes, then they were asked to show the researchers the containers of their supplements.

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