Iron deficiency can result in anemia in children. Let us have a
look at how children become anemic and how to prevent iron deficiency and anemia in
Anemia is considered to be present when the child's hemoglobin is lower than the normal for his given age and sex. Iron is used by our bone marrow to make hemoglobin, the red pigment of the red cells. By far, iron deficiency and its resultant anemia is the most widely prevalent nutritional disorder affecting the world population today, particularly pregnant and lactating women, infants, young children and adolescent girls. Prolonged and /or severe deficits of iron in early childhood years may have lasting implications on the health, functions and the development of an individual in later life.
Why Do Children Become Anemic?
Young children have increased demands for iron as compared to adults as they require it for the growth of their body tissues. Inappropriate feeding practices, worm infestations, frequent infections, cultural practices and the onset of menarche in girls add further stress upon the delicate iron balance of the body.
How to Recognize Iron Deficiency and Anemia in Children?
As most of the children develop iron deficiency gradually and over a period of time, the disorder does not produce alarming or acute symptoms. Such children appear pale, weak, tend to eat less and become easily tired even in the early stages of the disease. As the deficits continue, they develop palpitation, exercise intolerance, poor weight gain, frequent respiratory and intestinal infections and craving for inedible items such as crayons, chalk, clay, etc. As iron is crucial for brain metabolism, these children have poor attention spans, impaired learning ability and scholastic performance. Many of the signs and symptoms of the deficiency are often subtle and mild in the early phases and can be missed easily.
How to Prevent Iron Deficiency?
- Exclusive breast feeding for the first 4 to 6 months of life followed by the timely introduction of semisolids is an important step towards controlling iron deficiency in children.
- Cooking in iron pots/vessels can have useful health effects. Foods cooked in iron pots have been reported to improve the iron content of the prepared food.
- Intake of fruits, green vegetables and vitamin C improves the iron absorption from the diet. Jaggery, ragi, bajra, sarson, spinach and pulses are good sources of iron. Meat, fish and poultry are rich sources of iron and these promote iron absorption from other diets also.
- Processes like germination (sprouting of pulses) and fermentation (idli, dhokla) increase the vitamin C contents of these items, which itself is an enhancer of iron absorbed from the foods.
- Low birth weight babies, preterms, those recovering from prolonged illnesses and adolescent girls would need additional/medicinal iron therapy under medical guidance.
- Fortified foods such as wheat flour are useful iron supplements.
- If feasible, growing of iron rich vegetables in home gardens would prove very useful and eco- friendly.
As you know iron deficiency can make children prone to anemia thereby affecting their academic performance as well as their overall development. Therefore, it is very important for you to take preventive measures to avoid iron deficiency in your kids.