In this study, we investigated the prevalence of DS use in Korean children and adolescents. We listed the top 5 most commonly taken DS types and assessed the factors related to DS use using the 4th KNHANES.
About 34% of Korean children and adolescents were taking DS without significant gender difference. There are several studies which investigated the DS intake in different countries. Since the definition of DS use and the period investigated by the survey differed from study to study, a direct comparison and interpretation should be performed with caution. However, the prevalence of DS use in Korean children was very similar to that of the US (32%) (13
), but lower than Canadians (42.5%) (14
). If we restrict analysis only to VMS, the Korean prevalence would be 25.6% (data not shown) which is similar to Germans (25.8%) (15
). The prevalence of DS use of Korean children and adolescents was very similar to Korean adults' (33.8%) (16
). In contrary, the US adults showed higher prevalence (52%) than children and adolescents (32%) (13
The prevalence of DS use was higher in young children, families with higher household income, and in people with chronic disease, regular meal intake, snacks consumption, and normal body weight. These factors suggest that DS intake is associated with a higher socioeconomic status and good personal health behaviors. Foreign studies showed similar results: the DS use was more frequent in whites, people with high household income, high parental education level, easy accessibility to medical service, high physical activity level, short screen time, normal BMI (13
). Studies for adult showed similar findings (2
We found out that children with an adequate energy intake were more likely to take the DS. Considering that calcium and iron are the only two nutrients which do not meet the daily requirement with a normal Korean diet, the DS use might lead to over-nutrition. Kim et al. (6
) reported that the DS users consumed more nutrients than non-users and some nutrients exceeded the daily recommended amount by 60%. Although the DS use might compensate some nutrient deficiencies, it could also lead to overdose of others.
In this study, we showed that children with these chronic diseases were more likely to take DS. Three fourths of our participants with chronic diseases had atopic dermatitis. When we assessed the relationship between atopic dermatitis and the DS use separately, the OR was 1.26 (0.97-1.62) with marginal significance (data not shown). One study with Korean adults reported that DS users rather than non-users believed that the DS use help to relieve fatigue, booster vitality, help memory, delay aging and that the supplementation of vitamins and minerals reduces stress and prevents disease (2
). The belief on positive effect of DS might be the key factor to use DS when the children are diagnosed with chronic diseases. We cautiously suggest that the higher consumption rate in children with chronic diseases might reflect that the DS use in Korean children and adolescents are not used solely for health promotion, but also for the treatment of diseases.
An interesting finding was that the preschooler group (2-6 yr) had the highest prevalence of DS use with 34.1% among children and adolescents. This is similar to the results from Germany with a prevalence of 50.9% among the 2-4 yr old (15
), and those from the US with 30%-43% among 2-8 yr old children (13
). Young children develop basic health behaviors and dietary habit in this age group. They start to shape food preference (22
). Children might be picky and have unhealthy eating habits (23
). The aim of DS use in this age group is to increase appetites, prevent not-serious diseases like common cold, improve cognition, help growth, and compensate irregular eating patterns (17
). The DS use decreases with age first, then it increases in high school age group again, when the children are preparing for the college scholastic ability test.
There are different preferences for DS types dependent on age. VMS was the most popular DS in all age groups, followed by omega 3, ginseng, colostrum and chlorella/spirulina. We reported from the 2007-2009 KNHANES that the most popular DS type in Korean adults was VMS followed by omega 3, glucosamine/chondroitin, ginseng, and chlorella/spirulina (16
). In contrary, children and adolescents took more colostrum (not-ranked in adults vs 14/1,000 of children) which is claimed to have positive effect on height growth and brain development, but rarely took glucosamine which is advertised to be useful in degenerative osteoarthritis.
VMS was the most popular DS consumed by both Korean adults and children. The expectations of a beneficial health effect of VMS in combination with the influence from the commercial advertisement are believed to be the driver for their consumption (20
). This effect by the parents would extend to children, because they are the buyer of the products, and feed children (1
). The second most popular DS was omega-3, which contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and advertized as being good for amelioration of intelligence. DHA has been reported to play an important role for formation and maintenance of cell membrane of the central nerve system, and essential for brain maturation in embryonic periods of human development (25
). However its clinical effects on children's school performance are unknown. Ginseng that ranked on the third place, is advertised as a performance enhancer (26
). Colostrum is the first milk produced after birth and is particularly rich in immunoglobulins, antimicrobial peptides, and other bioactive molecules, including growth factors (27
). Colostrum was ranked high in preschool age group. Chlorella/spirulina contains chlorophyll, protein, essential amino acid, essential fatty acid, vitamins, mineral and fibers. They are advertised to remove reactive oxidants and to substitute micronutrients in body. In contrary to adults, the children and adolescents tend to consume more DS types which are considered to help school performance, growth, and immunity.
The DS market in Korea is expanding substituting the traditional oriental medicine. The sales money of DS increased by 9% from 1,000 billion KRW in 2004 to 1,092 billion KRW in 2008 (28
), while the market share of the oriental medicine among total medical expenditure shrunk from 6.1% to 5.3% in the same period (29
). With the expanding of DS market in Korea, the popular DS has been changing with time. We do not think that changes in market share of a specific DS are attributed to its efficacy changes. It is more likely that the marketing strategy including advertisement play more important roles in consumers' choice for a specific DS. The 2005 KNHANES showed that in more than two thirds of cases, DS use was encouraged by the family, friends and commercial advertisements, whereas only 7% of them were promoted by their physicians' advice (30
The main limitation of this study was that we conducted a secondary data analysis. The KNHANES was not designed to evaluate herbal medications and traditionally modified foods. This might lead to underestimation of the true prevalence of supplemental-functional foods intake. Furthermore, self-report of the DS use was subjected to recall bias. Since the KNHANES data were cross-sectional, the current analyses did not suggest causality but association.
In conclusion, the prevalence of DS use in Korean children and adolescents is high as 34%, especially in the socioeconomically stable groups with good health behaviors. Considering that the DS use in children with adequate dietary intake might cause overdose of some nutrients, assessment of children's nutritional status should precede taking DS. Public education on adequate dietary intake and proper use of DS are required.