On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Supplements for Picky Teen

DEAR DR. BLONZ: How old would a person have to be to be considered an “adult” when it comes to vitamins and supplements? My daughter is 14, and she has terrible eating habits, with her own set of quirks and refusals. I would really like her to take a supplement. I don’t know if she would be considered a child, and to take children’s vitamins, or an adult. She is active and not overweight. -- S.T., Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

DEAR S.T.: There isn’t any specific age at which a child magically becomes an adult. During the adolescent years, ages 13 through 17, the child transitions into their adult body, but this can vary from individual to individual. Some medications direct you to use adult dosing from age 12 on, while other medications might have separate guidelines up to age 18. That is why it is important to always follow the directions for each product. After all, a child is not a miniature adult; pharmaceutical dosages are based on the way a drug acts in each given age group.

As far as vitamins and minerals are concerned, the “daily values” on the labels are set for adults and children over the age of 4, which would indicate that your daughter is most definitely in adult status.

Do your best to educate her regarding the importance of good food and good nutrition, especially as regards the need for calcium and other essential minerals. Teens and young adults need to appreciate that the first 35 years of life is the critical period during which their bones can put on more mass than they lose, but this only happens when there is an adequate intake of calcium. The fourth decade of life is when we begin to shift gears, and any bone mass present serves as a “savings account” for the slow but incessant drain that occurs in the decades ahead. An active lifestyle is also important, but healthful dietary habits during the first half of life are critical. If your daughter is not going to be getting all she needs in her diet, a supplement can serve as a reasonable alternative, but it’s not a long-term solution.

Childhood and adolescent food quirks and refusals may come across as a challenge to your authority, but mealtime should not be allowed to degenerate into a power struggle. Missing an occasional meal, failing to eat from all the food groups on a daily basis, or never touching the spinach or broccoli are not signs of impending malnutrition. The body has amazing powers to conserve needed nutrients and make the most of them when they finally appear.

There’s no way to predict how individual tastes develop; they are facts of a child’s life that tend to ebb and flow over time. Talk with other parents. What a child’s peers enjoy can hold sway over their preferences.

In the end, aim to instill a sense of appreciation for all that’s involved in bringing food to the table in a supportive family setting. Add a nudge toward a healthy food selection, be consistent with the example you set, and you’re on track for promoting long-term healthful habits.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.