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Vitamin C and Children's Health

Media Contact:
Jennifer Martin, CSREES Staff (202) 720-8188

May 17 , 2007
By Stacy Kish, CSREES Staff

Vitamin C is essential in the diet of all children, but it plays an even more important role to children exposed to tobacco smoke in their daily environment. New research suggests intervention programs should focus on healthy snacks, such as fruit or vegetables, to help mitigate the effects on this high-risk group.

Tobacco smoke has been linked to cancer-causing agents. In addition, research suggests smokers are not as likely to consume as healthy a diet as non-smokers. Exposure to smoke and decreased access to healthy food places children in a perilous position.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that removes free radicals found in cigarette or tobacco smoke from the body. Children exposed to environmental tobacco smoke need higher levels of vitamin C than the Requested Daily Allowance (RDA). This is the first study that evaluates meal preference and vitamin C intake in children exposed to environmental tobacco smoke.

Alan Preston and colleagues in the Biochemistry, Biostatistics, and Epidemiological Department at the University of Puerto Rico Medical School examined two groups of children 2 - 13 years of age. The groups included children exposed to low levels of smoke in their environment and children exposed to high levels of smoke in their environment.

In general, both groups consumed more vitamin C on a daily basis than suggested by the RDA. The low-exposure group, however, consumed significantly higher levels of vitamin C (21.0 mg/day more) than the high-exposure group.

The scientists examined the vitamin C intake of both groups during breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner to determine at which meal the greatest difference occurred. The researchers found the most vitamin C was consumed during breakfast for both groups, but the greatest difference between the two groups occurred during snack time.

An effective intervention plan should focus on providing children in the high-exposure group healthy snacks, specifically fruits and vegetables, to promote and increase their daily vitamin C intake. This project was part of a pilot program available in 15 states to promote fruit as part of the mid-morning snack and may be expanded nationwide to improve the health and well-being of all children.

The research findings are available in the book, "Passive Smoking and Health Research," distributed by Nova Scientific Publishers.

The USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) funded this research project through the National Research Initiative (NRI) Bioactive Food Components for Optimal Health program. The NRI is the largest peer reviewed, competitive grants program in CSREES. It supports research, education, and extension grants that address key problems of national, regional, and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of agriculture.

CSREES advances knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting research, education and extension programs in the Land-Grant University System and other partner organizations. For more information, visit http://www.csrees.usda.gov.