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A new study indicates that 52% of U.S. adults reported using dietary supplements in both 1999–2000 and 2011–2012 surveys, but multivitamin usage decreased by 6% over the same period.
A recent study published in JAMA reveals that while overall U.S. supplement use held steady between 1999 and 2012, multivitamin use decreased over the same period. Meanwhile, supplements featuring omega-3s, lycopene, vitamin D, and probiotics all increased in usage over the same period, while rates of use for vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium decreased.
To arrive at these findings, researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), including data from 37,958 adults with an average age of 46. Participants were surveyed over seven continuous two-year cycles, starting with 1999–2000 and ending with 2011–2012, with the sample size per cycle ranging from 4863 to 6213.
Overall, 52% of participants in both the 1999–2000 survey and the 2011–2012 survey reported use of any supplement products in the prior 30 days. But while 37% of participants reported using multivitamin products in the 1999–2000 survey, that rate dropped to 31% in the 2011–2012 survey.
Response from Industry and Critics
Judy Blatman, senior vice president of communications for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, DC), responded to the JAMA study results in a public statement: “This new study on dietary supplement trends demonstrates that supplement use is a mainstream and consistent component of consumers’ health care practices, with the majority of U.S. adults indicating they take them,” Blatman said. “We’re encouraged by the authors’ interest and thoughtful assessment of dietary supplement usage, and are further encouraged that the results show the same steady interest by consumers that we’ve seen in our own market research surveys.”
But prominent industry critic Pieter Cohen, MD, took a less enthusiastic tone in an editorial article responding to the study results. Questioning why consumer would “continue to use supplements after high-quality trials found many of these products to be no more effective than placebos?,” Cohen proposed that consumers may not be aware of such negative study results. Physicians, Cohen suggested, should make sure their patients are aware of the latest research relating to supplements they may be taking, and “help remind patients that there is no benefit of obtaining vitamins from a pill rather than from conventional food.”
In response, Steve Mister, president and CEO of CRN, agreed with Cohen that all health care practitioners should discuss supplement use with their patients, although he noted that physicians should also recognize the beneficial role supplements can play in the diet of many Americans.
“Physicians must maintain open minds when discussing supplements and consider all the available evidence surrounding the benefits and risks of supplement use,” Mister said, in a public statement. “Cherry-picking research, dismissing patients’ actual experiences with supplements, and relying solely on randomized controlled trials as the only acceptable validation for benefits all alienate their patients and overlook the robust body of evidence for supplement usage.”
Dan Fabricant, PhD, executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association (NPA; Washington, DC), responded to the study in a statement noting that “consumers are demanding products that complement their individual health needs, and that’s why a majority of Americans continue to trust and use dietary supplements safely on a daily basis.” He also pointed out that NPA recently launched its Supplement Safety and Compliance Initiative with the goal of ensuring “quality, safety, and consumer confidence in every aspect of the production of finished products and the source of their ingredients.”
Differences Between CRN’s Usage Statistics
The results of the JAMA study may seem to paint a different picture than the usage statistics provided by CRN’s annual survey. Compared to the 52% overall usage rate found in the JAMA study, CRN’s survey has suggested an overall usage rate hovering around 68% for the past few years. But the difference is likely due to differences in the design of the CRN surveys versus the JAMA study, CRN’s Blatman explained.
“The JAMA study looked at the past 30 days’ usage, while CRN’s surveys asked consumers to identify themselves as a regular, seasonal, or occasional user, past user, or non-user, which may be a more practical reflection of how consumers view their supplement use.”
And in response to the JAMA results suggesting a decline in multivitamin usage, Blatman noted that the multivitamin is still the most popular dietary supplement product, with CRN research showing multivitamin usage has held steady since 2012, an is up slightly from 2011.
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Kantor ED et al., “Trends in dietary supplement use among US adults from 1999–2012,” JAMA, vol. 316, no. 14 (October, 2016): 1464–1474