April 14, 2011

Half Of US Adults Take Dietary Supplements

More than half of U.S. adults use dietary supplements such as multivitamins, minerals and herbs, according to a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While that level has held steady in recent years, the CDC figures show a dramatic increase in the number of older women taking calcium supplements, with 67 percent of women 60 and older now taking calcium supplements, compared with 28 percent in the early 1990s.

The use of dietary supplements grew steadily from the early 1990s, when it was roughly 42 percent, until 2003, when it leveled off at about half of U.S. adults 20 and older taking at least one dietary supplement per day.

Experts say the growing number of elderly, which include many women who have been encouraged to take calcium to help protect against osteoporosis, has contributed to the rise.

The CDC figures come from national, in-home surveys conducted in 1988-1994 and 2003-2008, which included more than 2,000 people each year.  Interviewers asked participants what supplements they took, and also asked to see the bottles to verify their responses.

According to the report, the use of multivitamins "” the most popular supplement "” increased slightly to nearly 40 percent.  Most people who take vitamins and other supplements are educated, have good incomes, have healthy diets and already get the nutrients they need from their food, the national health surveys suggest.

"It's almost like the people who are taking them aren't the people who need them," said Regan Bailey, a nutritional epidemiologist with the National Institutes of Health, during an interview with the Associated Press.

National surveys have only recently started asking participants why they take supplements, he added.

The federal government recommends some supplements for certain subsets of the general population, such as iron for pregnant women, folic acid for women considering getting pregnant and calcium for older women.  However, health officials stress that people should consult with their doctors first, and consider enriched foods that can accomplish the same goal.

The full CDC report can be viewed at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db61.pdf.