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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

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Updated on 04/08/2016

Close-up on consumption of food supplements

What have we learnt from INCA 2?

Keywords : Food consumption surveys, Food supplements, INCA (Individual and National Food Consumption Survey)

For the first time in mainland France, the INCA 2 study collected information on consumption of food supplements by adults and children aged 3 years or more. Profile of food supplement consumers and details on consumption.

Consumers of food supplements

Almost one in five adults consumed food supplements at least once during the year preceding their participation in the INCA 2 study, carried out between the end of 2005 and 2007. Likewise, one in ten children consumed a food supplement or vitamin/mineral supplement in the form of medication. The first interesting finding was that the higher the education level of the participant, or their representative in the case of children, the higher the consumption levels of these products.

The second key point was that in adults, consumption of food supplements is strongly influenced by gender. Consumption levels in women are twice as high as those in men. In children, however, consumption levels are the same for girls and boys.

Geographically, regional differences were found. Women showed higher levels of consumption in the east and south of France. In children, this difference was only significant between the north and south, with higher levels of food supplement consumption in the south. By contrast, consumption levels among men are consistent nation-wide.


Significant increase in consumption levels, with seasonal variations

Since INCA 2 is the only national public study available on the consumption of food supplements at the individual level it is not possible to determine exact changes in consumption levels. However, the food supplement market has grown strongly over the past few years. According to data collected by the Agency, nearly two thirds of food supplements are taken in the form of a course of treatment, for both adults and children. These courses are usually taken in winter, by 70% of children and 53% of adults, or in autumn by 25% of both adults and children.

The annual duration of intake of food supplements is a mean of 4½ months in adults, and 2½ months in children. However, durations vary widely between individuals, highlighting the wide range of different behaviour patterns in the consumption of these products.

Alongside courses of food supplement treatment, INCA 2 also revealed long-term consumption for a proportion of the population in France: 23% of adults and 12% of children who consume food supplements use these products almost throughout the year.


Food supplement sales points

When vitamins and minerals in the form of medication are included in the analysis, supplements are generally consumed further to a medical prescription (32% of adults and 39% of children), or on the advice of a healthcare professional (23% of adults and 31% of children). Among adults, food supplements are also purchased on the advice of a friend or relative (14%), or after finding the products in shops or online (15%).

Most food supplements are purchased in pharmacies both for adults (54%) and children (78%). However, for adults, a substantial part of sales occurs in supermarkets (14%), and in health food shops (9%).