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Published on October 07, 2013

Anemia written on chalkboard

Growing Strong: Could Your Child Have an Iron Deficiency?

The most common nutritional deficiency is iron deficiency. In pediatrics, it is most common in older infants, young children and teenage girls. It is usually a result of not getting enough iron, using more iron to make new blood cells during growth spurts, losing blood somewhere, or most likely, a combination of those factors.

What Does Iron Do in Our Bodies?

The most important role of iron is in red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all parts of the body. Iron also helps our body store and use oxygen, and is important in other functions in our cells.

Where Do We Get Iron?

The most common source of iron is meat, although most cereals are iron-fortified as well. Other good sources include beans (except green beans), clams and oysters, and prunes and prune juice. Here is a list from the Red Cross with good sources of iron.

Iron is absorbed better if taken with foods that are high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits.

How Much Iron Does My Child Need?

Iron requirements vary depending on age. For teenagers, gender also makes a difference. Here are the USDA recommended daily allowances. (Infants under 6 months of age who were not premature generally get enough iron from either breast milk or formula.)

Recommended Iron Intake by Age and Gender

Age/Group Life Stage Iron (mg/day)
Infants 7-12 months 11
Children 1-3 years 7
4-8 years 10
Males 9-13 years 8
14-18 years 11
Females 9-13 years 8
14-18 years 15

What are Signs of Iron Deficiency?

Iron deficiency can affect growth and may lead to learning and behavioral problems. It can also progress to iron-deficiency anemia (a decrease in the number of red blood cells in the body), but that is actually a late effect of being iron deficient. It only occurs once your body has used all of its iron stores.

Many people with iron-deficiency anemia don’t have any signs and symptoms because the body’s iron supply is depleted slowly. But as the anemia progresses, some of these symptoms may appear:

  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Pale skin and inner eyelids
  • Rapid heartbeat or a new heart murmur (detected in an exam by a doctor)
  • Irritability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dizziness or a feeling of being lightheaded

What Should I Do if I Think My Child May be Iron Deficient?

Make an appointment for your child to see his or her doctor. Iron deficiency can be detected in blood tests. However, just because your child is not anemic does not mean they have adequate iron stores, so make sure to discuss that with your doctor before tests are ordered.

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