New light on iron deficiency in young children

(Medical Xpress) -- Research from The University of Auckland and Starship Children’s Hospital has given a new understanding of the risk factors for iron deficiency in young children. This knowledge will allow children at risk to be identified more easily and will help in preventing this serious condition.

The study, published this month in Nutrition and Dietetics, focused on the interactions between a number of known risk factors in a random community-based sample of children between six and 23 months of age, of whom 13 percent had . It showed that certain combinations of risk factors could place children at a much higher risk of iron deficiency than when they occurred singly.

“The individual risk factors in the study have long been known, but knowledge of the context gives us a broader and much more clinically useful picture,” says Associate Professor Cameron Grant from the Department of Paediatrics at the University. “It has allowed us to demonstrate how much one factor can intensify the effects of another. For example, the research findings now enable me to say: ‘Here is a young child who has cows’ milk daily and only has fruit as a snack (rather than with the main meal) : the combination of these two factors increases the risk of iron deficiency 11 fold. Therefore we know we need to do something about it.’”

Iron deficiency is common among , with estimates from Australasia, Europe and the USA showing that seven to 14 percent of children under two are iron deficient. This is a serious condition which can have many adverse effects, including impaired learning - which may be permanent - impaired weight gain, gastrointestinal problems and impaired immune function.

Known included in the study were prematurity and low birth weight, increased body mass index, eating fruit only as a snack (rather than in combination with other foods, which helps with the absorption of iron) having no milk formula, drinking cow’s milk every day, and having only home-made first solids.

“One of the worst combinations for deficiency of micronutrients early in life,” Dr. Grant explains, “is when a baby of low birth weight gains weight very rapidly during the first two years of life.”

He also clarifies the relationship between home-made first foods and iron deficiency. “Home-made foods are good, of course, as long as they are rich in nutrients – but the quality can vary greatly. The commercial products are regulated and consistent in the nutrients they supply.”

The research showed the central role of the timing of eating fruit. While eating fruit only as a snack more than trebles the risk of iron deficiency, the risk rises more than three-fold again for a child who eats fruit only as a snack and drinks cows’ milk every day.

Increased body size is also a greater risk factor when combined with others. Larger children who had never had milk formula had a 14-fold increase of iron deficiency compared with smaller children who had received some milk formula.

“The research has helped greatly by giving a quick check-list to assess whether the child’s risk level is such that a blood test should be ordered,” says Dr. Grant.

The first author on this paper, Dr. Deborah Brunt, completed this work as part of her Master of Health Science degree, which she undertook midway through her medical school training at The University of Auckland. Other researchers in the team were Dr Clare Wall from the Department of Nutrition at The University of Auckland, and Dr Peter Reed, biostatistician at the Starship ’s Hospital Research Centre .

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Not all children's multivitamins are created equal

Apr 14, 2011

Many parents give their children some form of multivitamin to ensure they are receiving necessary amounts of vitamins and minerals. They may not be enough, however, if a child’s diet is lacking iron or calcium, according ...

Maternal obesity puts infants at risk

Apr 30, 2011

Babies born to obese mothers are at risk for iron deficiency, which could affect infant brain development, according to a study to be presented Saturday, April 30, at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting ...

Umbilical cord can save lives

May 14, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- The umbilical cord is of great importance to the health of newborns, even after they’ve left the womb. If it is left in place for a while after birth, the risk of iron deficiency drops ...

Recommended for you

ER waiting times vary significantly, studies find

1 minute ago

(HealthDay)—When it comes to emergency room waiting times, patients seeking care at larger urban hospitals are likely to spend more time staring down the clock than those seen at smaller or more rural facilities, ...

Internists report considerable EMR-linked time loss

11 minutes ago

(HealthDay)—Use of electronic medical record (EMR) systems is associated with considerable loss of free time per clinic day, according to a research letter published online Sept. 8 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Kids eat better if their parents went to college

36 minutes ago

Children of college-educated parents eat more vegetables and drink less sugar, according to a new study from the University of British Columbia. But it's still not enough, the study goes on to say, as all kids are falling ...

Asia's rising tobacco epidemic

6 hours ago

Smoke-filled bars and packed cancer wards reflect decades of neglect of no-smoking policies in Asia, where both high- and low-income countries are belatedly waking up to a growing tobacco-related health ...

User comments