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New study reveals inaccuracy of vitamin D content in food and supplements for infants

Posted on: December 30, 2016   by  Amber Tovey


Infant formula, baby foods, milk and supplements for infants all try, by themselves, or in combination, to give the baby 400 /day. While we don’t think this is enough, it is crucial to infant’s health.

A new study published in the journal Food Chemistry revealed the disturbing truth about the inaccuracy of infant food and supplement labels, posing a potential health risk for infants.

Vitamin D plays a crucial role for the healthy growth and development of infants. Studies show that maintaining healthy vitamin D levels during infancy is associated with healthy brain development, reduced risk of allergies, proper immune system development and reduced risk of respiratory distress. Furthermore, severe vitamin D deficiency causes infantile rickets, which results in softening and weakening of bones.

On the other side, receiving excessive amounts of vitamin D poses risk to infants, although those mistakes are almost always caused by a manufacturers error. The IOM-FNB, set the RDA for infants at 400 IU/day and 600 IU/day for children over the age of one. The upper limits for infants are 1,000 – 1,500 IU daily by the Food and Nutrition Board and 2,000 IU per day for the Vitamin D Council.

In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) upped their recommendation from 200 IU/day and recommended all infants receive 400 IU of vitamin D supplements daily. The lack of regulation for vitamin D supplements, formula or baby foods, denies parents the ability to ensure that their infant is receiving the proper amount of vitamin D.

Researchers recently conducted a study regarding the accuracy of vitamin D contents in fortified foods and supplements intended for infants in the European Union (EU).

The EU enforces similar regulations for vitamin D fortification to the United States. The European Commission provides guidance for fortified food products; whereas the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the food fortification in the United States. Both agencies set forth maximum amounts of vitamins and minerals in food products to avoid toxicity.

In the United States, the manufacturer holds the responsibility for the accuracy and compliance of the information declared on the food label. The FDA assesses a small batch of the units to ensure that the average content of the vitamin or mineral is similar to its label. In the EU, tolerances are used to define the acceptable differences between the nutrient values presented on the food label and those analyzed. For vitamin D, these values are set at -35% to +50% for foods and -20% to +50% for dietary supplements.

Unlike the European Commission, the FDA has essentially no oversight on the accuracy of dietary supplement labels. The FDA’s role is to simply monitor the marketplace for illegal products, such as products that make false claims. The manufacturer holds the sole responsibility for the accuracy of the label and supplement’s contents.

The variation in both fortified foods and dietary supplements in the United States poses a potential public health risk.

In this study, the researchers assessed 44 products from the Netherlands, including 18 “follow-on” infant formulas, 10 samples of porridge, 1 curd cheese dessert and 15 vitamin D supplements. All products were targeted for infants.

Here is what the researchers found from their analyses:

  • Compared to the declared vitamin D values on the label, the actual vitamin D content ranged from 50% to 153% for fortified foods.
  • The actual vitamin D content of supplements ranged from 8% to 177% compared to the labeled values.
  • Instant follow-on formula and oil-based supplements had a measured vitamin D content similar or higher to the labeled value.
  • Ready to eat baby porridge was the only food product in which all measured vitamin D content was below the value presented on the label.

Using the results of the study, researchers found that no infants would exceed the UL if the lowest proportional deviations of the labeled value in the product were applied to infants. However, if all the highest proportional deviations were applied, at least 75% of infants would exceed the UL.

The researchers concluded,

“The main finding of the present study is that both lower and higher levels than declared occur in practice; however, in general within the EU tolerance range. Three out of 44 products deviated significantly from the EU tolerance range. For most dietary supplements the measured vitamin D concentration is somewhat above or below the declared value, but larger deviations were also observed in 3 out of 15 products.”

The researchers also stated that the results are similar to the findings from two previous studies in the U.S. that found the vitamin D content of infant formula varied from 87%-184% of the labeled value.

The study’s findings clearly illustrate a public health concern. Since infants require a narrow range of vitamin D intake for optimal health, with too little resulting in infantile rickets (< 400 IU/day) and too much causing toxicity (> 2,000 IU/day), either companies must begin to realize the importance of accurate labeling, or there needs to be increased regulation.

As a parent, identifying which brands adhere to strict quality assurance processes is crucial to ensure your infant’s vitamin D needs are being met. This study explains our reasoning of endorsing Biotech Pharmacal vitamin D supplements. They possess a strong commitment to public health, and therefore, a strict quality control process to ensure accurate labeling.

As always, we recommend 1000 IU/day for infants. It’s always best to discuss your child’s vitamin D supplementation regimen with your doctor.


Tovey, A. & Cannell, JJ. New study reveals the inaccuracy of vitamin D content presented on food and supplement labels intended for infants. The Vitamin D Council Blog & Newsletter, 2016.


Pehrsson, P. R., Patterson, K. Y., & Khan, M. A. Selected vitamins, minerals and fatty acids in infant formulas in the United States. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 2014.

Verkaik-Kloosterman J. et al. Vitamin D concentrations in fortified foods and dietary supplements intended for infants: Implications for vitamin D intake. Food Chemistry, 2016.

Yetley, E. A. Multivitamin and multimineral dietary supplements: Definitions, characterization, bioavailability, and drug interactions. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007.

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