In a recent study published in the journal Nutrients, researchers discussed iron nutrition in preschoolers living in high-income countries.
Study:Iron nutrition of preschool children in high-income countries: a review. Image credit: DanijelaMaksimovic/Shutterstuck.com
Iron deficiency affects nearly 25% of the world’s population, with children under the age of five being particularly vulnerable. In preschool ages between two and five, children have high nutritional needs, but often fall short of recommended dietary guidelines.
An early onset of iron deficiency can have serious consequences for a child’s health, including compromised immunity and stunted cognitive and motor development. The public health importance of iron nutrition during early childhood is considerable, although there is still limited understanding of the subject.
Research on iron nutrition in preschool children from rich countries
Most studies of dietary iron consumption of children between two and five years of age found that the prevalence of inadequate consumption varied between less than 1% and 66%.
A recent study found that 66% of children in New Zealand are at risk of inadequate iron intake, which is significantly higher than the reported prevalence of less than 1% in the US. However, it is important to note that there were differences in the methodology used in both studies.
The occurrence of depleted iron stores varied from country to country, with rates ranging from 7.4% to 31% among preschoolers in the US and UK respectively. Iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) and iron-deficient erythropoiesis (IDE) had different prevalence rates in different countries.
The prevalence of IDE ranged from 3% in the US to 9% in Iceland, while the prevalence of IDA ranged from less than 1% in the US to 4.3% in New Zealand.
Non-nutritional factors related to iron status or iron consumption
Non-dietary factors that influence iron intake include sociodemographic characteristics such as gender, age, ethnicity, family structure, and socioeconomic status. The team found inverse correlations between iron intake and preschoolers and maternal education and age.
On the other hand, female preschoolers and children from families with two or fewer children have a higher iron intake. Young children from underprivileged families also run a higher risk of iron deficiency. Studies have shown that men and preschoolers from low-income households have lower serum ferritin (SF) levels.
Relationship between nutritional quality and iron nutrition in preschool children
Dietary factors affecting iron intake in preschool children
Iron-enriched formula and cereal intake are among the dietary factors that influence the iron intake of preschool children in Europe. Iron from formulas and cereals, although less bioavailable than heme iron, is still positively associated with iron intake in children due to its prevalence in their diets. Haem iron sources make up only 8% of dietary iron intake for pre-school children in Australia.
More than half of the iron intake for children under the age of eight in Australia comes from cereals and cereal-based products, such as iron-fortified breakfast cereals and discretionary foods such as cakes and biscuits.
Feeding trends and iron intake of preschool children
Few studies have examined the relationship between dietary trends and nutrient intakes in children between two and five years of age in resource-rich countries, despite the importance of understanding nutrient intake profiles. Only 12 nutritional quality studies that focused on nutrient intake for preschoolers and were published in English have reported patterns associated with iron intake.
Diets for preschoolers that include healthier foods, fruit juice, and non-iron and non-heme enriched foods such as cheese and bread have a positive association with iron intake. A study also showed that there is a negative correlation between iron intake and diets consisting mainly of sugary and processed foods and the frequency of snacking.
Two different patterns of food consumption were identified in South Korean children, with the dietary quality index for iron found to be lower in the mixed pattern compared to the rice-centered pattern.
In high-income countries, the prevalence of inadequate iron intake among preschool children ranges from less than 1% to 66%, and depleted iron stores are found in 7.4% to 31% of cases. Non-nutritional factors such as gender, age, household size, and maternal education affect preschoolers’ iron intake.
Iron-fortified formula and grain consumption, along with diverse dietary patterns, are linked to higher iron intake in preschoolers.
Assessing the adequacy and accessibility of iron consumption among preschool children can help create and implement community-based interventions aimed at improving iron intake, especially bioavailable iron, and reducing the likelihood and impact of iron deficiency .
Additional research is needed to determine the adequacy of absorbable iron in preschool-aged children.
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