Iron Deficiency & Overeating in Children
Children and adolescents who are overweight are more likely to be iron deficient than their normal-weight peers, according to a study published recently in Pediatrics (2004;114:104–8).
The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children in the US is growing at an alarming rate. Findings from a large survey study suggest that it has increased more than three-fold in the past thirty years, from 4 to 15%. Other researchers have estimated that more than 25% of US children are overweight. Increasing intake of high-calorie fast food and lack of exercise due in part to overuse of television and other technologies are largely to blame for this trend.
Although overweight children tend to consume large quantities of calorie-dense foods, these foods have little other than calories to offer the body and leave children vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies. Furthermore, overweight bodies might have higher nutritional needs than normal weight bodies, compounding the problem of nutrient deficiencies. Findings from previous studies suggest that iron and zinc deficiencies are more common in overweight and obese people than in normal weight people.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. Inadequate dietary intake of iron is usually the cause, but some other conditions, such as those that cause blood loss, can cause anemia (low number of red blood cells) and iron deficiency. Iron is found in red meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, beans, raisins, molasses, and green leafy vegetables. Iron helps red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body and helps muscle cells utilize oxygen to produce energy. People with iron deficiency can’t carry or utilize oxygen properly; therefore, the main symptom of iron deficiency is fatigue. Children and adolescents with iron deficiency are also more likely to have learning problems and behavioral disorders.
The current study is based on the results from a large survey study, known as NHANES III (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III, conducted from 1988 to 1994). The data from 9,698 children and adolescents, aged 2 to 16 years, were analyzed. Body mass index (BMI) was calculated for each child using their height and weight, and iron status was evaluated through blood tests. Children in the ninety-fifth percentile or higher for BMI were considered to be overweight, and those from the eighty-fifth to the ninety-fourth percentiles for BMI were considered to be at risk for overweight. More than 5% of children who were overweight and at risk of overweight, but only 2% of normal-weight children, had iron deficiency. In overweight girls between the ages of 12 and 16 years, the rate of iron deficiency reached 15%. Other risk factors for iron deficiency identified in this study were Mexican American ethnicity and living below the poverty level.
The results of this study demonstrate that children and adolescents who are overweight or at risk of overweight are more likely to have iron deficiency than their normal-weight counterparts. In the face of epidemic rates of overweight and obesity in the US, healthcare providers should be aware of the relationship between weight and iron status and should counsel their overweight patients accordingly. Future studies should search for links between overweight and other nutrient deficiencies.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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