Many children in Europe have insufficient iron intakes

February 9, 2015

According to a new review high proportions of inadequate intakes and high prevalence rates of iron deficiency can be observed in European children. 

The systematic review analyzed data from 44 studies conducted in 19 European countries investigating the iron intakes of infants (6 to 12 months) and young children (12 to 36 months) (1). The analysis showed that, while the mean value of iron intakes in most countries was close to the recommendations, significant proportions of inadequate intakes were found, ranging from about 10% in the Netherlands up to 50% in Austria, Finland and the United Kingdom. The prevalence of iron deficiency varied between studies and was influenced by children’s characteristics. Two to 25% of infants aged 6 to 12 months were found to be iron deficient. In children aged 12 to 36 months, prevalence rates of iron deficiency varied between 3 and 48%. Prevalence of iron deficiency anemia in both age groups was high in Eastern Europe, as high as 50%, whereas the prevalence in Western Europe was generally below 5%.

The scientists commented that health programs should (keep) focus(ing) on iron malnutrition by educating parents on food choices for their children with iron-rich and iron-fortified foods, and encourage iron supplementation programs where iron intakes are the lowest. Most importantly, iron is part of hemoglobin and therefore essential for the delivery of oxygen to the cells in the body. Iron is also a structural component of many enzymes needed for a wide range of metabolic processes, such as phagocyte antimicrobial activity, neurotransmitter synthesis and function, and the production of DNA, collagen and bile acids (2). Considerable amounts of iron must be provided by the diet to replace the iron that is lost from the body and the iron that is required for growth. Young children are especially at risk of inadequate intakes of iron because many of them do not consume large quantities of iron-rich foods such as red meat and green leafy vegetables (3). 


  1. Eussen S. et al. Iron Intake and Status of Children Aged 6-36 Months in Europe: A Systematic Review. Ann Nutr Metab. 2015; 66:80–92.
  2. FAO/WHO: Human Vitamin and Mineral Requirements. Chapter 13: Iron. Geneva. 2002.
  3. WHO/FAO: Guidelines on Food Fortification with Micronutrients. Geneva. 2006.