Iron is an important dietary mineral and is required for the proper growth and development of a child. Iron is a crucial component of hemoglobin, a protein that is required for oxygen transfer in our body. Iron deficiency can hinder the synthesis of red blood cells causing anemia. Iron is also needed for proper brain development. Thus, iron deficiency in children adversely affects normal growth and cognitive development.

Children are highly prone to develop iron deficiencies because a high amount of iron is needed during rapid growth. However, it is important to note here that excess iron intake is toxic to the body, and one must not give over-the-counter iron tablets to children without proper medical advice.

Symptoms of iron deficiency
Iron deficiency causes lethargy, growth retardation, weakness, recurrent infections due to poor body immunity, behavioral issues, increases sweating, and appetite loss.

Common dietary requirements of iron for children between the ages of 7-12 months is 11 mg/day while for children from 1-3 years, it is 7 mg/day.

The main causes of iron deficiency in children are

  • Poor diet management by the parents in the early years of life.
  • Not incorporating solid food after the child is above 6 months of age and a complete reliance on breastfeeding.
  • Vegetarian diets are usually low in iron content. Thus, vegetarians must include better sources of iron in their diet.
  • Excessive dependency on cow’s milk for children below the age of 2 years.
  • Lead poisoning.
  • Pre-term birth and low birth-weight
  • A mother`s diet during pregnancy is very important because the fetus gets iron from the mother. Thus, a healthy and balanced diet is essential to prevent iron deficiency in the newborn.
  • Some babies can show an iron deficiency in the first year if excessive breastfeeding continues after 6 months of age without incorporating iron-rich solid food. Thus, delaying the introduction of solid food is one of the main causes of iron deficiency in this age group.
  • Vitamin-C is required for proper absorption of iron in the body. Thus, a deficiency of vitamin C can also lead to iron deficiency in children.

Preventive measures
Certain preventive measures taken by the parents can help in avoiding iron deficiency in children:

  • Eat an iron-rich diet during pregnancy and if you are a non-vegetarian, incorporate meat in your diet.
  • Timely start of solid food for the child.
  • Give iron-rich baby supplements to your child after consulting a pediatrician.
  • Include vitamin C rich food such as lemons, berries, mandarins, oranges, and tomatoes to the diet.
  • Intestinal parasites can also cause iron deficiency. Consult your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

Iron is a critical micronutrient for the proper growth and development of a child. Iron deficiency is a very common phenomenon in children and prevalent in several parts of the world, especially the developing world. It is evident that proper dietary intervention and behavioral changes can provide sufficient iron to children and prevent iron-deficiency.