Kids Nutrition

Iron deficiency (ID) in children

ID is often caused by the lack of iron in the diet. Iron is vital for transporting oxygen in the bloodstream and for preventing anemia. For both male and female adolescents, the need for iron increases with rapid growth and the expansion of blood volume and muscle mass. The onset of menstruation imposes additional iron needs for girls.

Kids at risk of ID

Iron deficiency can be suspected in Babies who:

  • Are born prematurely ( > 3weeks before their due date ) or have a low birth weight;
  • Drink cow's milk before age 1. Cow’s milk is not a good source of iron and can interfere with iron absorption;
  • Are breast-fed babies and not given complementary foods containing iron after age 6 months;
  • Drink formula that isn't fortified with iron.

Iron deficiency can be suspected in children who:

  • Consume a diet poor in meat, grains, fruits and vegetables;
  • Ages 1 to 5 and drink more than 24 ounces (710 milliliters) of cow's milk, goat's milk or soy milk a day;
  • Drink more than 480 mL of soda per day;
  • Have a daily intake of low-nutrient snacks high in fat or sugar;
  • Have certain health conditions, such as chronic infections or restricted diets.

Signs and symptoms

ID can be diagnosed by low hemoglobin levels with low ferritin levels.

Signs and symptoms may include: pale skin, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, slow cognitive and social development, difficulty maintaining body temperature, increased risk of infection etc…

ID and iron deficiency anemia (IDA) can have immediate and long-term effects on your children’s learning and development. ID in children may impair their ability to function, it can decrease attention spans, alertness, and learning in young children and adolescents. Recent studies have shown that children who are iron deficient have lower IQs, and score lower on standardized math tests and tests of mental capacity. In these studies, when the iron deficient children took iron supplements, all of these scores improved.

Prevention and treatment

Preventing rather than treating iron deficiency is a priority:

  • Serve your child a nutritious diet that is naturally rich in iron (lean cuts of red meats, salmon, dark poultry, beans, lentils, green leafy vegetables etc…)
  • Your child should not drink more than 24 ounces of milk a day (about 3 glasses) so that he or she has an adequate appetite for solid iron-containing foods;
  • Vitamin C and haem iron rich foods (derived from animal sources) help promote the absorption of non-haemic dietary iron (derived from vegetarian sources). Vitamin C rich foods include: lemon, orange, kiwi, broccoli, tomatoes, bell pepper etc...
  • Depending on the degree of the deficiency, the doctor may subscribe iron supplements.
  • Reduce intake of low-nutrient snacks and encourage iron-rich snacking i.e.: fortified breakfast cereals, grain products, meat sandwiches, bean burritos, fajitas, Chex mix®, dried fruits, nuts, soy nuts, molasses cookies, edamame (green soy beans in pods) etc…
  • Taking sodas, coffee, tea, iced tea, bran/fiber and calcium supplements with meals interferes with iron absorption. Avoid them or space their intake from meal time.