Anaemia caused by iron deficiency is the most common nutritional problem in the world. It is a major concern, particularly for children, because of the many negative consequences for them, including lower performance at school.
What is the major cause of iron-deficiency anaemia?
This form of anaemia is most often a result of not eating enough foods - such as meat - that contain iron. What does research say about children's intake of meat? Research conducted in the Middle East shows that children in these countries do not eat enough meat to get their recommended amount iron. In fact, 85% of children in the region do not get enough meat in their diet.
What are the symptoms of iron-deficiency anaemia?
- Pale skin: When your child's cheeks and face appear pale.
- Weakness and exhaustion: Your child will feel weak and frail and might not be able to participate in physical activity or sports at school.
- Rapid heartbeat: Your child's heartbeat will be fast, even if he is not engaging in exercise.
- Headache: Your child will be prone to headaches that are not easily cured by painkillers.
- Weakened immunity and repeated infections: Anaemia leads to repeated respiratory infections, like throat infections. Iron plays an important role in strengthening the body's immune system.
- Reduced school performance: Your child will lag behind his peers at school in terms of academic performance, concentration and speaking.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, you should consult your paediatrician as soon as possible to start a treatment that will include iron-rich foods in your child's diet.
How to prevent iron-deficiency anaemia in your child
Prevention is always better than the cure, so to prevent iron-deficiency anaemia, encourage your child to eat foods rich in iron. These include:
- Meat: The most important source of iron and one that is easily absorbed by the body.
- Non-meat foods: Legumes (e.g., lentils and beans) and green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach) are rich sources of iron, but the iron isn't absorbed by the body as well as iron from meat is. That's why you should combine legumes and vegetables with a source of Vitamin C, which helps increase iron absorption from vegetable source.
- Fortified foods: Some foods, such as milk and breakfast cereals, often are enriched with iron. As milk plays a vital role in your child's daily diet, iron-fortified milk helps your child meet his daily requirement of this important mineral.
In addition to all of this, you should make sure your child's diet is balanced and varied. Try to avoid food habits that increase their risk of developing iron-deficiency anaemia, such as eating high-sugar and high-fat processed foods that provide a lot of empty calories with little nutrition.
(This article is developed by the NIDO® Child Development Expert Panel)