Many brands of popular breakfast cereal—among other foods—are overfortified with vitamins and minerals and may be causing harm to children, according to a report from a health advocacy group. The Environmental Working Group looked at nutrition labels on nearly 1,600 cereals. Researchers found that 114 of them contained at least 30 percent of the adult daily value of vitamin A, zinc and niacin, nutrients that can be harmful in too-large quantities. Twenty-three cereals were fortified with greater amounts of these nutrients than is deemed safe for children under the age of 8. Many of these cereals are familiar brands made by Kellogg's and General Mills.
The findings indicate that more than 10 million kids in the United States are consuming excessive amounts of vitamins. Compounding the problem are outdated labeling—the FDA hasn't updated many of its daily value formulas since 1968—and the fact that the recommended amounts and percentages on the labels are calculated for adults.
"We've gained a lot of knowledge in the last 45-plus years," says Danelle Fisher, vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.
Fisher says the message for parents is not to stop serving cereal to their kids. Rather, it's to practice moderation. After all, these foods are fortified with vitamins, but they are also processed.
"Parents need to be discerning and be conscious of labels; they are there for a reason," she says. "Mix it up. Add eggs, pancakes, fruit and yogurt to your breakfast rotation. Find other go-to snacks. Kids shouldn't necessarily be eating cereal four times per day, plus taking a daily vitamin supplement. Milk, too, is fortified with vitamin A, so no child should have more than 24 ounces of whole milk per day."
Fisher also wants parents to know that the chances of a child reaching a toxic state from consuming too many of these vitamins is very slim. "We aren't seeing scores of sick kids," she says.