WASHINGTON — Despite the misgivings of some experts, supplement companies are actively marketing a range of products for children using a variety of techniques.
Some strategies are obvious. Considerable science has shown that creatine increases power in short bursts in sports that require it, such as weightlifting, football and sprints.
MLO Products Co. of Fairfield, Calif., has forged a relationship with football powerhouse Mater Dei High School of Santa Ana. "How would you like to increase lean weight by 11 lbs. in 3 months?" read a promotion on MLO's Web site. "The Mater Dei High School football team has been consistently ranked among the top 10 teams in the country."
The company originally provided creatine to Mater Dei in order to use its athletes in a study and then publish the results, said Ryan Snyder, a sales manager.
"We've just continued sponsoring Mater Dei," Snyder said. "We just want to be associated with a high-quality football program."
In Irvine, Met-Rx Engineered Nutrition has gone a step further. It has 200 high school "mentor" programs in "almost every state," according to marketing director Charlie Wright. Met-Rx supplies creatine and other supplements to athletes at 60% of the retail cost and sends 10% of the purchase price to the school's athletic programs.
Coaches and parents must approve each athlete's participation, thus opening "a communications link" about nutrition, Wright said.
"Here's a way for them to get information [on supplements], save some money and create some new revenues for strengthening athletic departments."
Other marketing strategies simply developed from consumer demand. At Gaia Herbs, based in Brevard, N.C., herbalist Mary Bove designed a set of 20 products for children to respond to "physicians all over the states . . . calling me about giving kids herbs."
Gaia's list, one of the country's most extensive, includes products ranging from Skin Cream for Baby Bottoms to Melissa Supreme for Children, an herbal treatment recommended in company literature for ADD and "impulsiveness."
Melissa, also known as lemon balm, is a medicinal tea herb and mild tranquilizer used to aid sleep or to calm an upset stomach. Gaia's literature suggests combining Melissa Supreme with a second supplement containing St. John's wort for "hyperactivity, mood swings and tantrums."
Concern about attention deficit disorder, or ADD, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, combined with parental misgivings about Ritalin, the most popular pharmaceutical treatment for these conditions, has spawned a brisk competition among companies searching for alternatives.
A product called Attention Focus, made by Nature's Way of Springville, Utah, uses essential fatty acids to encourage "proper transmission of brain and nerve signals," the label says. Herbs Etc., a Santa Fe, N.M., company, sells a melissa product called Kid-A-Lin.
The Scotts Valley, Calif., company Source Naturals hit pay dirt in 1999 with Focus Child, developed by Cathleen Rapp to find "something to appeal to people who don't want to use Ritalin."
Focus Child's key ingredient, dimethylaminoethanol bitartrate, or DMAE, was developed by Riker Laboratories in the 1950s and sold by prescription for nearly 30 years as Deaner, a treatment for children's learning disabilities. But in 1983, the FDA forced DMAE's removal from the market after determining that it wasn't effective.
Nevertheless, there are several DMAE children's supplements today, including chewable tablets and fruit and chocolate bars. Natural Organics of Long Island, N.Y., makes a DMAE product called Pedi-Active A.D.D.--an "advanced diet delivery" system, according to the legend on the label.
At least one company, the Utah-based Enrich International, has promoted ephedra in the past as a substitute for Ritalin to treat ADD and ADHD among young children, and at least some of the company's affiliated salespeople still recommend it.
Once a promotional strategy is in place, many companies are finding instant success with an eager public. The San Diego-based Nutrition Business Journal, which tracks the industry, reported 1999 sales of $120 million in herbal and nutritional supplements for children. In 1999, a study conducted by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government found that 18% of parents were giving their children dietary supplements that were not vitamins or minerals.
"A lot of parents are finding that natural herbal remedies are working very effectively on their kids, and it's taking a lot of pressure off of running to the doctor every time you get a runny nose," said Amy Zanger, manager of the Crossroads Health Hut in Glendale, Ariz., near Phoenix. "People are taking charge of their own health, and the pendulum is swinging natural."
Supplement-containing "body zoomers" are "one of our top selling categories," said Fresh Samantha public relations manager Kim Mayone, who acknowledged that Oh, Happy Day contains "a mood-enhancing herb," but not enough for it "to be a medicine."
In less than a year, Source Nutritionals' Focus Child became a top 10 bestseller for a company that sells more than 400 items. For health food store manager Zanger, it was a godsend.
"We're not into drugging our kids," said Zanger, who was worried because her son, 8, couldn't concentrate in school. "So we decided to go natural." They chose Focus Child.
"I just got his progress report card, and I almost cried; it was so much better," she added. Zanger also gives Focus Child to her 2 1/2-year-old son "before we go out to eat or to the movies" to keep him quiet. "It seems to be fine for him."