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Understanding Iron Deficiency in Children: Tips to Prevent Iron deficiency

  • Posted on- Apr 02, 2015
  • 3231 Views

Iron deficiency is one of the common reasons behind nutritional deficiency in infants and children. The World Health Organization states that anemia affects 25% of the world’s population and pre-school age children & women fall under this percentage. ID (iron deficiency) is meticulously challenging for Asian and African countries. Off late, resource-rich western nations have been showing lower rates of nutritional deficiency in children. But it is still a fight for them.

Iron deficiency leads to anemia which affects a child’s overall development and growth. So, is your child meeting daily requirements of iron? Find out why iron is important for children and what can be done to prevent its deficiency?

Importance of iron in children

Iron is a necessary nutrient for a child’s growth and development. Iron regulates oxygen from the lungs to the body and helps muscles use oxygen. If your child lacks iron in the body, he/she might develop a condition called iron deficiency. It can occur at multiple levels, from reduced iron stores to anemia- a condition where blood lacks adequate healthy RBC (red blood cells). Iron deficiency can cause physical and mental delays if left untreated.

Daily requirement of iron in children

Children are born with iron stored in their bodies but an additional amount of iron is required for quick growth and development. Here is a guide of a child’s daily iron requirement for different ages:

  • 7-12 months: 11 mg 
  • 1 - 3 years: 7 mg 
  • 4 - 8 years: 10 mg 
  • 9 - 13 years: 8 mg 
  • 14 - 18 year girls: 15 mg 
  • 14 - 18 year boys: 11 mg

Risk factors involved with iron deficiency in children

Infants and children who are at higher risk of iron deficiency include:
  • Prematurely born babies- born before three weeks of due date  
  • Babies who are fed cow’s milk before completing first year of birth 
  • Breast-fed babies who are not given foods containing iron after completing first 6 months
  • Children (1-5 years) who drink cow’s, goat’s or soy milk more than 24 ounces per day
  • Children with chronic infections or limited diet 
  • Teenage girls are also at higher risk because of loss of iron during menstruation

Signs of iron deficiency in children

Iron deficiency can interfere with your child’s functional ability. Nevertheless, symptoms of iron deficiency are clearly visible only after anemia. If you suspect your child of anemia, it’s good to visit a paediatrician. Iron deficiency signs and symptoms include:

  • Pale, yellowish skin
  • Weakness, tiredness or fatigue
  • Tongue inflammation
  • Delay in social and cognitive development
  • Vulnerable to infections
  • Abnormal desire for substances like ice, dirt, pure starch

Prevention of iron deficiency in children

Iron deficiency can easily be prevented if parents pay attention to their child’s diet. For instance:
  • Breast feeding is recommended until your child turns 1. Iron from breastmilk is easily absorbed than formulated iron. It’s better to use iron-fortified infant formula if you are reluctant to breastfeed. Cow’s milk is not recommended for children younger than age 1. 
  • Serve your baby foods with added iron, such as iron-fortified baby cereal between 4-6 months. Good sources of iron include chicken, fish, beans, green vegetables, red meat etc. As a parent, make sure your child does not drink more than 24 ounces of milk a day between ages 1-5.  
  • Vitamin C promotes iron absorption. Give your child foods rich in Vitamin C such as broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes, melon etc.  
  • You can consider giving your child oral iron supplements only after consulting a physician. Iron supplements can be given to premature babies but only after a doctor’s consultation.

Iron deficiency can be prevented. In order to track your child’s growth and development, it is essential for you to pay attention the amount of iron he/she is getting daily.