Effect of Anemia on Young Children - Sophie Umansky
Iron deficiency, and the anemia that results from it, affects billions of people around the world. Yes, you read that correctly, billions. 30% of the world’s population are anemic. Anemia causes health issues in the young and old, but has an especially detrimental effect on children. According to a study done in India, nearly 73 million children under the age of 3 in India suffer from varying degrees of anemia (Kotecha). Since children’s bodies are still growing and developing, including their brains, children with anemia experience the most serious consequences of severe anemia.
(Friesland Campina Institute)
Anemia has the capability to permanently impair cognitive function and reduce full mental and emotional development, and especially in infants, can cause vulnerability to infection and lower immunity. Iron deficiency anemia has also been associated with impaired motor development, significantly lower academic achievement, and decreased activity.
At birth, there are higher concentrations of hemoglobin in the body and a fairly large amount of stored iron in an infant. In the first 6 months of life, an infant grows and develops rapidly, resulting in the dwindling amount of iron available. At 6 months, an infant's iron stores have been depleted, and the body relies on diet as a vital source of iron. This is when anemia caused by iron deficiency becomes a concern because rapid growth results in the need for more red blood cells and therefore more iron. It is important to note that premature babies or babies born with low birth weight, have less iron stored in their bodies, and therefore will rely more heavily on diet to provide iron. Additionally, babies born to mothers with iron deficiency anemia have less iron stores at birth, and therefore are more vulnerable to iron deficiency anemia themselves.
Especially in developing countries, it is very important for infants older than 6 months to receive supplemental nutrition, because breast milk from anemic mothers doesn’t provide enough iron. Iron-fortified formula and baby food rich in iron are all good options to maintain proper iron levels in infants.
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