According to a national survey, about 70% of U.S. youth fail to meet national dietary recommendations for fruit, grain, meat, and dairy foods. Filling up on non-nutritious foods not only adds extra calories to the diet that may contribute to weight gain, it also puts kids at risk for deficiencies in vitamin B12, a micronutrient that helps the body maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. Studies have shown that obese kids may be particularly at risk for vitamin deficiencies, so researchers from hospitals and medical schools in Israel examined the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency in normal-weight and obese children.
In the study, researchers tested the levels of vitamin B12 in 392 kids. After analyzing blood samples, the study authors classified participants as having normal B12 levels, low B12 levels, or deficient B12 levels.
Overall, the obese kids were more than four times more likely to have low vitamin B12 levels, and the higher a child's body mass index (BMI), the greater the risk of low B12. In addition, nearly 5% of obese kids had evidence of vitamin B12 deficiency compared with only about 2% of normal-weight kids.
The study authors suggest that obese children may be at increased risk because they consume diets high in carbohydrates and fat but low in protein (animal proteins such as fish and beef are rich in vitamin B12). Obese kids may also need more vitamin B12 than normal-weight children because of their increased growth and body size.
What This Means to You. The results of this study indicate that obese children and teens are at increased risk of dietary deficiencies, specifically vitamin B12, which can cause anemia due to a drop in the production of red blood cells in the body. To include more B12 in your child's diet, serve vitamin-rich foods such as salmon, top sirloin beef, fortified breakfast cereals, yogurt, eggs, and milk. Most kids who eat a nutritious, balanced diet don't need vitamin B12 supplements for good health, but those with certain gastrointestinal problems or who eat vegetarian diets may need dietary supplements to prevent deficiencies. If you have questions about whether your child's B12 intake is adequate, talk to your doctor.
Sources: Orit Pinhas-Hamiel, MD; Noa Doron-Panush, RD; Brian Reichman, MD; Dorit Nitzan-Kaluski, MD, MPH, RD; Shlomit Shalitin, MD; Liat Geva-Lerner, MD; Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, September 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: October 2006