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High Levels Of Iron Deficiency In Infants

High levels of iron deficiency have been found in a community study of Auckland infants aged 6 to 23 months. Iron deficiency was found in 27% of those surveyed. Researchers found that 38 of the 142 infants surveyed had iron deficiency.

Dr Clare Wall presented the interim results of New Zealand's first community-based assessment of the iron and vitamin A status of infants, at the New Zealand Dietetics Association (NZDA) annual conference this week in Wellington.

"Dietary factors most definitely play a role in a reasonable proportion of these cases. Factors include a low intake of both iron rich meats and vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables. In addition tea drinking (which reduces iron absorption) and the replacement of breast milk or infant formula with cows' milk before 12 months significantly affect iron status," says Dr Wall.

Previous studies of infants' iron status have been based on hospitalised children. The Auckland study is unique in that it is the first population based random sample study of infants to be carried in New Zealand. The study has also looked at the differences in levels of iron deficiency between Maori, Pacific Island and infants of other ethnic origins.

"Until now iron deficiency has appeared to be more prevalent in Maori and Pacific Island children than other population groups. This study shows that it is actually a problem across all sectors of the community," says Dr Wall.

Signs of iron deficiency include tiredness, lethargy and recurrent infections. It is also known to impair intellectual development. The good news is that iron deficiency is largely preventable.

Dr Wall advises parents who suspect their child is iron deficient to see their medical practitioner. However, offering children a range of foods, including red meats and vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables, can reduce the risk of iron deficiency. Fruits and vegetables and other foods high in vitamin C aid the absorption of iron from foods.

Parents are also advised not to offer infants drinks such as tea and coffee, which inhibit iron absorption, and continue to breastfeed until the infant is at least 12 months old. If breastfeeding stops before then an infant formula should be introduced.

The study, in which Dr Wall is the principal nutrition researcher, will continue through to 2001. Data collected includes family socio-demographics, body measurements, analysis of a blood sample, a two day weighed food record and a qualitative food frequency questionnaire.

The study is being jointly conducted by the Department of Paediatrics at Auckland University, Massey University and Starship Hospital and it is funded by the Health Research Council.

For more information contact:

Dr Clare Wall - 09 443 9748 or Andrea Thuell - 025 318 693

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