CHICAGO (Reuters) - Overweight U.S. children run an alarmingly high risk of iron deficiency, a condition which can lead to learning and behavior problems, researchers said on Tuesday.
It was the first time an association had been found between obesity and iron deficiency in children as young as 1, the researchers said, and they said junk food may be to blame.
“The reasons for the strong association in this age group are unclear and need to be elucidated,” Dr. Jane Brotanek of the University of Texas and other researchers cautioned in their study, published in the journal Pediatrics.
“Dietary practices may play an important role since diets high in calories but poor in micronutrients may lead to both iron deficiency and overweight” children, they added.
Iron deficiency anemia in infancy and early childhood can impair learning, hamper school achievement and lower scores on tests of mental and motor development, the researchers said.
“A key finding of this study is the alarmingly high prevalence of iron deficiency among overweight toddlers,” the report reads. “Excessive milk or juice intake, prolonged bottle-feeding, snacking and junk food intake might contribute.”
The findings were based on a study of 1,641 youngsters aged 1 to 3. Iron deficiency was found in 20 percent of those who were overweight but just 7 percent of those who were not.
The researchers said children in day care or attending preschool classes had a lower risk of iron deficiency. It may be that such children have better diets with more iron or are less likely to be allowed excessive amounts of juice or snacks, Brotanek’s team suggested.
The study also found that Hispanic youngsters were twice as likely as their white counterparts to be iron deficient but the authors said that may be in part because Hispanic children are less likely to be in preschool or day care.
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