A Statistics Canada research article suggests people who could benefit most from calcium and other supplements are the least likely to buy them. ((iStock))

Poor Canadians who don't get enough vitamins and minerals from food aren't making up the difference by taking supplements, a Statistics Canada report suggests.

The agency's issue of Health Reports on Wednesday includes an article on supplements and socio-economic status.

Supplement use is more common in higher-income households, and use tends to rise with education levels, Hassanali Vatanparast of the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition at the University of Saskatchewan and co-authors found.

"These findings support the literature on supplement use from the United States and indicate a potential health disparity in access to vitamin/mineral supplementation," the authors concluded.

Previous research already found that people of lower socio-economic status tend to consume foods lower in nutrients and higher in calories, said Andrea Holwegner, a registered dietician in Calgary with Health Stand Nutrition Consulting and a columnist for People in higher socio-economic groups eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish and lower-fat dairy.

"This study released today suggests that those that could benefit the most from vitamin and mineral supplements are the least likely to take them," Holwegner said.

"I recommend that all Canadians consume an age-appropriate daily multivitamin and examine their intake of calcium and vitamin D rich foods. Many Canadians can benefit from calcium and vitamin D supplements if intake is low."

Holwegner called generic multivitamins a cost-effective measure for improving health in general, regardless of income bracket.

Overall, Statistics Canada suggested use of vitamin and mineral supplements was higher among females, at 47 per cent, than males, at 34 per cent.

The agency used calcium to illustrate the impact of taking a specific supplement. The minimum level of calcium needed a day — known as adequate intake or AI — is 1,000 milligrams for people 19 to 50 years old, and 1,200 milligrams a day for those 51 or older. The benefits of calcium supplements were particularly pronounced in older women, Statistics Canada said.

But men should keep in mind that they also get osteoporosis, even if generally later than women do, Holwegner said. It's just as important for men to consume foods rich in calcium, such as dairy products and fortified soy milk, and to consider calcium and vitamin D supplements, she said.

The Statistics Canada research also looks at differences by age and suggests about 40 per cent of children aged one to eight are taking supplements. The percentage drops below 30 per cent between ages 14 and 18, then rises steadily until it's about 60 per cent among women, 40 per cent among men, at age 51 and up, Stats Can said.

The data for the report came from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey nutritional interviews with 35,107 Canadians.