WA News News & Reports Do children need supplements?
Do children need supplements?
Written by Dr Roslyn Giglia
Thursday, 03 August 2017

Children not on a restricted diet or without a medical condition should not need supplements. They need the essential vitamins and minerals to support their growth and development but this is best achieved through a well-balanced diet. All essential vitamins and minerals are important but iron (brain development) and calcium (growth and bones) are especially so for children.

The best way for children (and adults) to get all their vitamin and mineral needs is through the organic forms found in foods, as these are the most highly absorbed. Manufactured supplements cannot replicate this and are not as well absorbed.

Children’s food need not be organically grown, it just has to be eaten. This is often the most difficult job for a parent and it can seem easier to give a sugary coated vitamin jube. Children regularly given supplements instead of a well-balanced meal might, wrongly, learn that there are shortcuts to health.  

Parents should give their children lots of variety and encourage repeated tastes of unfamiliar or disliked foods. It takes around nine times of offering a food before a child might actually try it, so even a small bite, nibble or lick can help. I don’t recommend parents giving a supplement to their child after an uneaten meal. Instead, encourage them to eat some of the meal. If they have a variety of foods (fruit and vegetables, breads, cereals, meats and dairy) daily, they will still be getting enough nutrients.

There are some rare exceptions where children may need supplements. Those on a vegetarian or vegan diet will struggle to get enough iron. It is very unlikely this will be for medical reasons and I recommend parents include meat in their child’s diet until they mature and can make their own choices about eating meat without having their growth and development affected by iron deficiency in the developing years.

Food allergies or intolerances may be why children avoid certain foods (e.g. dairy) making it difficult to get adequate vitamins and minerals for growth (e.g. calcium). However, any food allergy needs to be medically diagnosed, as removing foods without good evidence of an allergy may inadvertently create an unnecessary deficiency.

Chronic diseases such as coeliac or Crohn’s also need to be diagnosed before different foods are removed from a child’s diet. In coeliac disease, thiamine (vit B1), riboflavin (vit B2), pyridoxine (vit B6) and folic acid are potential nutrient deficiencies that can occur due to the removal of grain based (e.g. wheat oats barley) foods containing gluten.

By Dr Roslyn Giglia, dietitian and child health researcher, Telethon Kids Institute

Author competing interests- nil relevant disclosures, Questions? Contact the author via This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

While communication is one thing, investigation of notifications is another. We believe good doctors want the bad ones weeded out but they don’t want to be part of a witch hunt or get buried in lawyers, politics or paperwork.

The national Medical Board can respond to a complaint or act on the advice of the WA Medical Board to establish an assessment panel to either examine the health or performance and professional standards of a doctor. Health consumers are represented on panels along with medical practitioners.

The Medical Board and AHPRA have undisclosed lists of doctors who are approved by them as panellists and probably as expert witnesses. Many of these people, we believe, were ‘grandfathered’ across when National Law first came in (2010). Their impartiality is as unknown as they are. Then we have expected biases of the legal assessors, chosen by AHPRA, possibly thrown into the mix.

Is there a problem, Houston?

It is important this is sorted to everyone’s satisfaction as 42% of doctors in our survey thought panellists could lack impartiality to a serious extent.

In fact, only one quarter of doctors we surveyed (n=195) were happy with the impartiality shown by AHPRA or the Medical Board in processing a complaint (with 36% unhappy and 39% undecided). Nearly all of those who were unhappy said they were concerned that unfairness will be seriously damaging to someone. Investigation is a very confronting experience.

If someone is being investigated by a panel, either the panel or the person being investigated can opt for a more out-in-the-open State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) judicial hearing – the panel usually refers because it feels the evidence before it constitutes more serious professional misconduct.

What Fair Doctors Want

Talking to doctors, they appear to want an apolitical system of investigation that is fair and timely. They want to be treated reasonably. Unlike the legal profession, their work is mostly built around trust and honesty. They do not want a return to the ‘good old days’ where those with a political bent in the medical profession could influence what the Medical Board did.

While this is a very difficult area for us to investigate, with arguments and counter-arguments at every step, we cannot understand why the Medical Board would turn to arguably the most political organisation, the AMA, for its counsel (the national Board Chair met earlier this year with “senior leaders from AHPRA and representatives of the AMA” to workshop doctor complaints).

Why? Our e-Poll responses raise a question mark over the AMA’s involvement (and we don’t think AMA members have been polled on this issue.)

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