According to results of a recent study analyzing representative data obtained from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), approximately one-third of children and adolescents use dietary supplements, many of which are associated with preventable adverse events.

In order to determine dietary supplement use prevalence among young patients, the study authors, “reviewed 6 recent 2-year cycles (2003-2004 through 2013-2014) of NHANES data and restricted our sample to children and adolescents (aged 0-19 years) who responded to the dietary supplement questionnaire.” Data was obtained during a household interview where participants were asked to divulge dietary supplement, vitamin, mineral, and herbal medicine use in the last 30 days.  

Results showed that, from 2013 and 2014, 33.2% (95% CI: 30.4%, 36.2%) of children and adolescents utilized dietary supplements, which was similar to 2003-2004. The authors also reported, “While the use of nutritional products did not change between 2003 to 2004 and 2013 to 2014, the use of alternative medicines nearly doubled (3.7%; 95% CI, 2.8%-4.7% vs 6.7%; 95% CI, 4.8%-8.3%; P<.001).” 

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They hypothesized that this trend was due to increased use of both ω-3 fatty acid supplements (0.4%; 95% CI: 0.2%, 0.9% vs 2.3%; 95% CI: 1.4%, 3.5%; P<.001) as well as melatonin supplements (0% vs 0.9%; 95% CI: 0.5%, 1.7%; P<.001). Additionally, dietary supplement use was found to be the lowest and alternative medicine use was found to be the highest for both boys and girls in their adolescent years (13-19 years old).

From 2013 to 2014, multivitamins were the most commonly used dietary supplement (25.1%; 95% CI, 22.3%-28.1%) followed by supplements for immunity (3.8%; 95% CI, 2.8%-5.2%), ω-3 fatty acids (2.3%; 95% CI, 1.4%-3.6%), and sleep aids (1.1%; 95% CI, 0.6%-1.9%).

Gender differences in supplement use were also noted. Males used more ω-3 fatty acid and bodybuilding supplements while females used more single vitamins and multivitamins.

Approximately one-third of children and adolescents in the US utilize dietary supplements, according to results of this recently published study. In conclusion, the authors call the growing use of alternative medicines specifically melatonin and ω-3 fatty acid acid supplements, ‘particularly noteworthy’ given that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder drugs are also linked with serious cardiovascular adverse events and are frequently used by children and adolescents.


Qato DM, Alexander GC, Guadamuz JS. Prevalence of Dietary Supplement Use in US Children and Adolescents, 2003-2014. Jama Pediatrics. 2018. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.1008.