Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency and a major public health problem worldwide. Young children and women of childbearing age are at particular risk as their dietary iron intakes are often insufficient to support increased physiological requirements during rapid growth in children, and during menstruation and pregnancy in women.
Iron is important for brain growth and iron deficiency anaemia in early childhood has been associated with long-lasting and irreversible cognitive and behavioural delays.
In adults, iron deficiency, even in the absence of anaemia, has been associated with increased fatigue, depression, and poorer cognitive function, while maternal anaemia during pregnancy has been associated with poorer maternal and infant outcomes. By compromising both physical and intellectual capacity in children and women, iron deficiency markedly undermines a country’s productivity.
To design effective strategies for the prevention and treatment of iron deficiency, it is crucial to understand the specific factors that underlie low iron intakes and iron deficiency in these at-risk population groups, such as inappropriate dietary patterns or low iron bioavailability. This information is currently lacking in Australia.
Through our research we will determine the prevalence of inadequate iron intakes and iron deficiency in Australian children under 5 years of age and women of childbearing age, factors predisposing these vulnerable groups to low iron intakes and iron deficiency, and dietary patterns associated with iron intakes and status. We are also working to assess the impact of iron deficiency in Australian women on productivity and mental health and well-being, and the impact of iron intakes in early childhood on school readiness.
Author: Dr Ewa Szymlek-Gay
Funding acknowledgement: Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellowship
- Domellöf M, Szymlek-Gay EA. Iron Nutrition and Neurodevelopment in Young Children. In: Riby L, Smith M, Foster J, editors. Nutrition and Mental Performance: A Lifespan Perspective: Palgrave Macmillan; 2012.
- Lomagno K, Hu F, Riddell L, Booth A, Szymlek-Gay EA, Nowson C, et al. Increasing iron and zinc in pre-menopausal women and its effects on mood and cognition: a systematic review. Nutrients 2014;6:5117-41.