Children's Multivitamins

October 20, 2005

Making quality nutritional supplements that appeal to kids isn’t exactly child’s play. Although the need for healthy nutritional options has never been higher-almost 80% of young people don’t eat the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; Atlanta)-there are a couple of reasons why dietary supplement manufacturers find children’s multivitamins especially challenging to formulate.

 

Making quality nutritional supplements that appeal to kids isn’t exactly child’s play. Although the need for healthy nutritional options has never been higher-almost 80% of young people don’t eat the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; Atlanta)-there are a couple of reasons why dietary supplement manufacturers find children’s multivitamins especially challenging to formulate.

The first is flavor. Children tend to be picky eaters, and many young people prefer sweet-tasting foods. Unfortunately, multivitamins contain significant amounts of bitter-tasting nutrients. Chewable and liquid multivitamins therefore need to be formulated with flavor in mind.

The second is safety. Manufacturers want to include enough nutrients to make supplements effective, but they also need to avoid adding toxic levels of nutrients and additives. Most nutrition research, however, has been conducted on adults, not kids, so meaningful benchmarks for nutritional supplements may not always be available. Moreover, children’s supplements may also create special safety concerns related to packaging.

Fortunately, the growing demand for children’s products has forced manufacturers to become innovative. Strategies for addressing flavor and safety concerns are now important parts of most research and development efforts. These efforts have resulted in new products specifically designed to appeal to kids-and the parents who buy their supplements.

CORNUCOPIA OR CRISIS?

Compared with other countries around the world, the United States is blessed with an abundance of food. However, many American children aren’t getting all of the nutrients they need. Data from the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s (Washington, DC) Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals shows that children often fail to consume the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of several nutrients, such as iron and calcium.

Lester Crawford, PhD, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA; Rockville, MD), noted earlier this year that children are also facing another problem-obesity. Crawford, who estimated that 16% of American kids are obese, added that type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, is rapidly becoming a pediatric disease.

“The average American child is not getting the nutrients required for balanced wellness and nutrition, and the obesity epidemic in the United States is evidence of that,” says Ram Chaudhari, senior executive vice president and chief scientific officer of Fortitech Inc. (Schenectady, NY).

Chaudhari notes that the list of nutrient deficiencies that young people face is daunting. Aside from iron and calcium, other missing nutrients that are important to children’s nutrition include the letter vitamins A, B, C, and E, as well as the minerals zinc, chromium, selenium, and potassium. Calcium is a particular problem, with 85% of adolescent girls failing to meet the RDA. About 25% of American adolescents may also be deficient in vitamin D.

Rachel Agnew, RD, a registered dietician who works with Pharmavite LLC (Northridge, CA), says that often the best recommendation for parents is to buy a children’s multivitamin. “A children’s multivitamin offers doses that help meet a child’s RDA and do not exceed upper limits on specific nutrients for children,” Agnew says.

TASTE MATTERS

Although some adults may be willing to consume a supplement with an unpleasant flavor, most children won’t. That’s because children appear to be more sensitive to bitter-tasting flavors than adults. While no one knows for certain why children tend to be picky eaters, a recent study conducted by scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Center (Philadelphia) suggests that genetics could play a substantial role in childhood taste preferences.

In the study, which was published in the February 2005 issue of the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that variations in TAS2R38, a gene that encodes a taste receptor sensitive to bitter tastes, may influence children’s food choices. The team divided 143 children into three groups based on the variations: one group (PP) had two bitter-sensitive sites on the gene, one group (AA) had two bitter-insensitive sites, and one group (AP) had one of each. The researchers then gave a bitter-tasting solution to the children and analyzed their reactions.

While most children who had at least one bitter-sensitive site (PP and AP) detected bitterness in the solution, only a few who had two bitter-insensitive sites (AA) thought the solution was bitter. Moreover, children with two bitter-sensitive sites (PP) were more sensitive to the solution than children with just one (AP). In addition, the researchers found that children with at least one bitter-sensitive site (PP and AP) also preferred higher concentrations of sucrose solutions than children with two bitter-insensitive sites (AA).

“This type of information will one day help to improve the diets of our children by allowing us to devise better strategies to enhance fruit and vegetable acceptance in children who are sensitive to bitter taste,” says Julie Mennella, PhD, the lead author of the study. “It may be that childhood represents a time of heightened bitter-taste sensitivity in some children, which lessens with age. Such a scenario would account for the increase of vegetable consumption that often occurs as children mature into adulthood.”

FLAVOR STRATEGIES

While new strategies to enhance fruit and vegetable acceptance may take more time to develop, supplement manufacturers have already been experimenting with several flavor-masking techniques. These techniques can help make chewable and liquid multis more palatable to kids.

One technique that many manufacturers turn to is microencapsulation. “Nutritional ingredient suppliers need to have a firm understanding of which nutrients can cause taste issues,” says S. L. “Sam” Wright IV, CEO and president of the Wright Group (Crowley, LA). “Including microencapsulated nutrients within the nutrient premix can eliminate bitter taste and metallic off-notes that often occur in these products. By creating tablet premixes with a combination of our own microencapsulated vitamins and minerals, including the vitamin B family, vitamin C, and macrominerals such as copper, iron, and magnesium, we can create nutrient blends that either eliminate or greatly neutralize unwanted taste in the finished product.”

“Products like multivitamins are becoming more and more complex, and scientists face many different challenges,” adds Fortitech’s Chaudhari. “To accomplish a good-tasting product, edible barriers and coatings are used to prevent migration of macronutrients and micronutrients, along with moisture and oxygen transfers. Preventing migration will virtually guarantee a high-quality, acceptable product with extended shelf life and sensory properties.”

At this year’s Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Expo in New Orleans, Fortitech showcased an array of sample products for children, including apples, freeze pops, donuts, and chocolate pudding that were enriched with vitamins and minerals. The apples contained ascorbic acid to prevent browning, while the freeze pops offered the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E. The donuts contained several energy-boosting nutrients along with high amounts of bioavailable protein, and the chocolate pudding fortified with vitamins B, A, and D was anything but bad for kids.

“The samples were meant to provide children with healthy food alternatives and were a huge hit with just about all who tried the samples,” says Chaudhari. “The apples, which were fortified with calcium and vitamin C, proved to be one of the hottest items, and the freeze pops with an antioxidant profile were also very popular. Fortitech received very positive feedback from those who tried our fortified donut and heart-healthy chocolate pudding.”

Another company that offered ingredients targeted to children at the IFT Expo was Biodar Ltd. (Yavne, Israel), which recently launched a line of taste-masked vitamins and minerals called Chew&Eat through its U.S. distributor P. L. Thomas (Morristown, NJ). Biodar microencapsulates the nutrients, which can be used as single ingredients or as part of a drum-to-hopper premix. “Supplement and confectionery manufacturers face barriers in developing chewable tablets, candies, and gums enriched with minerals due to the metallic taste of the nutrients,” says Udi Alroy, Biodar’s marketing director. “Biodar’s advanced technology allows producers to reduce the high sugar content used to mask the taste of minerals in their products.”

Alroy notes that most gummy bear supplements contain high amounts of sugar to mask the bitter taste of the nutrients. “Consumer concern about high sugar consumption among children encouraged us to develop Chew&Eat without adding any sugar,” Alroy says.

SAFE SUPPLEMENTS

While it’s relatively easy for manufacturers to determine what nutrients are lacking in the average child’s diet, it’s not always so easy to determine the appropriate dosage of those nutrients in a supplement. Most clinical studies on vitamins and minerals are conducted on adults rather than children. And some manufacturers believe that nutrient RDAs tend to be too low to be effective. Moreover, some ingredients, such as herbs, do not have RDAs. Because of the potential for error, the best policy when formulating children’s supplements, say experts, is caution and moderation.

“It is true that most research is done on adults,” says Chaudhari. “But RDAs for children are different, and supplement manufacturers are adding moderate amounts of nutrients rather than megadoses.” Chaudhari adds that manufacturers are already aware of many potential safety issues because manufacturers look at ongoing studies in adults and are “very careful when adding those nutrients at higher levels.”

Manufacturers are also taking steps to address another concern: the levels of additives and excipients in children’s supplements. According to Mitchell May, PhD, CEO of Synergy Production Laboratories (Moab, UT), the amount of toxins, pesticides, chemicals, and food additives that children can safely process is smaller than what an adult can process because their bodies are still developing. To minimize the presence of additives, Synergy uses food-based ingredients that mimic the effects of excipients.

“We don’t use any type of excipient in any of our processing,” May says. “That’s pretty unusual. We have found ways to use functional foods to serve that purpose. Whatever we use has a nutritional value component to it, and we customize machinery to make that possible.”

For example, Synergy’s cold-milling process uses special radiators to pump refrigerated water through the chambers. The cooling effect of the radiators keeps the ingredients at a very cold temperature, preventing the sugars from binding and eliminating the need for flow agents during the encapsulation process.

“Excipient-free process is something that Synergy has invested quite a bit in,” May says. “For children, it is especially critical that what they eat is not polluted and that their supplements contain as few additives and pesticides as possible.”

More-rigorous manufacturing standards, such as the proposed good manufacturing practices (GMPs) for dietary supplements, also help ensure that the likelihood of accidental contamination or adulteration is reduced. Plus, additional labeling requirements, like FDA’s published guidance on iron-containing supplements, also help prevent the possibility of an overdose.

“Quality control and labeling requirements are much more stringent due to the forthcoming GMPs,” says Chaudhari. “Overall, multivitamin and mineral supplements play an important role if used in moderation and within a manufacturer’s recommendations as shown on the label.”

PRODUCT EXAMPLES

Two examples of new supplements designed to appeal to kids are Yummi Blast by Hero Nutritional Products (San Clemente, CA) and Healthy Moments Vitamin Strips by Momentus Solutions LLC (Marlton, NJ). Yummi Blast is a line of powdered nutrition boosters offered as an alternative to sugary drinks, while the Vitamin Strips dissolve on the tongue.

The Yummi Blast line includes a sour-apple-flavored multivitamin that provides 100% of the RDA of vitamins A, C, D, B6, and B12, along with riboflavin, thiamin, and niacin. Meanwhile, the Vitamin Strips, which dissolve instantly and are sugar free, provide 100% of the RDA of several nutrients.

PLAN OF ACTION

While multivitamins may help kids fill in some of the gaps in their nutritional profile, experts say that supplements are only one useful tool in the fight against obesity and poor nutrition. Children still need to be encouraged to make healthy food choices and exercise more. Kids are also subject to other negative influences, such as advertising for junk food and fast-food restaurants. For example, researchers reported in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health that nearly 80% of public and private schools in Chicago had at least one fast-food restaurant located less than half a mile away.

“Two main challenges are to increase physical activity levels and to get the entire family to eat healthier foods and snacks,” says Pharmavite’s Agnew. “It is particularly important that the whole family participate in healthy eating and living, since positive adult role models ensure that children emulate healthy behaviors.”

Agnew adds that cutting down on activities like watching television is also essential. “Most experts agree that these types of dietary and life-style changes made early on in life can help lower risks for chronic diseases in adulthood,” she says.

While making children’s supplements may not be child’s play, incorporating play into a child’s routine via exercise can help make supplementation more effective. Children’s supplements, used in concert with other approaches, can therefore help make a difference.