Anemia and Iron Status

Young children are at great risk of iron deficiency because of rapid growth and increased iron requirements. Iron deficiency can occur due to lack of iron in the diets. If this continues, anemia results. Anemia is a manifestation of iron deficiency when it is relatively severe.

It is important to note that not all anemia is due to iron deficiency. The primary causes of anemia include reduced red blood cell and hemoglobin production, hemolysis of red blood cells, and loss of blood. Although an inadequate dietary intake of several nutrients may reduce the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin, the most common cause of anemia throughout the world is iron deficiency.

Poverty, abuse, and living in a home with poor household conditions also place children at risk for iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is seen most commonly in children six months to three years of age. Those at highest risk are low birth weight infants after two months of age, breastfed term infants who receive no iron-fortified foods or supplemental iron after four months of age, and formula fed term infants who are not consuming iron-fortified formula.

Iron deficiency anemia significantly impairs mental and psychomotor development in infants and children. Although iron deficiency can be reversed with treatment, the reversibility of the mental and psychomotor impairment is not yet clearly understood. Thus, prevention and treatment need to be emphasized more than detection. In addition, iron deficiency increases a child’s susceptibility to lead toxicity. Lead replaces iron in the absorptive pathway when iron is unavailable.

Recommendations to Prevent and Control Iron Deficiency in the United States (PDF-333K).
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This page last updated November 16, 1999

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity