What to Know About Iron Deficiency In Children 

Editor’s Note: This article is for informational purposes only. You should not use it to replace any professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any health issues. Any questions about your blood health should be directed toward a physician, hematologist, or other licensed healthcare professional.

Anemia in young children could lead to stunted growth and other issues — here are the signs to look out for and what you can do as a loving parent. 

Although rare, iron-deficiency anemia is a serious condition that affects more than two million U.S. children per year.

But even if your child is not at risk for iron deficiency anemia—the disease typically affects those whose families lack food security—it’s still important to make sure they’re getting enough of this vital nutrient. 

In this blog, we’ll go over how iron deficiency affects children, how you can increase their iron intake, and how AnemoCheck can help you track their hemoglobin levels during their formative years. 

Why Is Iron Important for Children?

How many of you were told spinach would “Make you strong like Popeye” as a child? Now that you’re older, it’s time to let you in on a secret: It wasn’t the spinach…not directly anyway. What helped Popeye gain superhuman strength was the iron found in the leafy green vegetable, but you can find that in foods much tastier than canned spinach. 

Iron is needed so our bodies can create hemoglobin, a protein found in our red blood cells that helps carry oxygen to our muscles, cells, and internal organs. The oxygen allows each part to perform its job properly.

Low hemoglobin levels mean there aren’t enough red blood cells delivering oxygen to our body, which means certain functions start to slow down or, in more severe cases, shut down entirely. 

In infants and children, this means it could cause their physical growth to slow down and could also lead to other symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, including

  • Pale skin
  • Fatigue
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Slowed growth and development
  • Poor appetite
  • Abnormally rapid breathing
  • Behavioral problems
  • Frequent infections

Some studies have found that iron deficiency in infants and toddlers may also lead to “impaired cognitive, motor, social-emotional, and neurophysiologic development.”

How much iron do children need?

The amount of iron children need varies by age. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Age Recommend iron intake per day
7-12 months 11 mg
1-3 years 7 mg
4-8 years 10 mg
9-13 years 8 mg
Teenage boys, 14-17 years 11 mg
Teenage girls, 14-17 years 15 mg 

These numbers may vary on a number of things, including your child’s physical activity levels. If you have questions on whether your child is getting enough iron, you should speak with a physician or nutritionist. 

Is My Child at Risk for Iron Deficiency?

Most U.S. children will not be at risk for iron deficiency anemia unless they lack food security, but there are some groups that are at a higher risk than others, such as 

  • Babies born prematurely or those who had a low birth weight 
  • Babies who don’t eat iron-fortified formulas 
  • Children with certain health conditions 
  • Children who are fed a vegetarian or vegan diet 
  • Overweight or obese children 
  • Adolescent girls who have begun menstruating
  • Young children who compete in youth sports

Should I Get My Children Screened for Iron Deficiency 

Unless your child starts experiencing any anemia-like symptoms, there’s no need for any special screening for iron deficiency. Routine blood tests done during the first few years of life will reveal any nutritional deficiencies, at which time you can create a plan with your doctor to address any issues.

How Can I Prevent Iron Deficiency in My Children?

There are several ways you can make sure your child is getting enough iron to grow big and strong 

Feed them iron-rich foods 

Our body doesn’t create enough iron to support hemoglobin production, so it needs to obtain this nutrient through diet. Here is a list of iron-rich foods to include on your child’s dinner plate. 

  • Red meat
  • Eggs
  • Tofu/tempeh
  • Oats
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Lentils
  • Palm Hearts
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Pumpkin and flax seeds
  • Potatoes
  • Mushrooms

Address any food sensitivity issues 

Food sensitivities or digestion issues in children can lead to a host of problems, such as stomach ulcers. These conditions could lead to decreased iron absorption, which may result in iron deficiency anemia. 

Enhance absorption

Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Vitamin A are all necessary nutrients that help the body better absorb and use iron to create more hemoglobin. Make sure your child’s foods include high levels of these nutrients to enhance iron absorption. 

Keep an AnemoCheck on Your Child’s Hemoglobin Levels

AnemoCheck should not be used to screen infants’ hemoglobin levels (their nails are simply too small for our algorithm to read). However, it is suitable for children ages 4 and up. 

And while it should never replace regular doctor’s visits, you can use our app to help create a plan with their pediatrician to make sure all their health needs are being addressed. 

Click here to download the app via the iOS or Android app stores.

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