Giving iron supplements to children with low birth weights may reduce the risk of developing iron deficiency and anemia, a new Swedish study suggests.
In the study, 285 children with marginally low birth weights (2,000-2,500 g) were randomly divided into three groups that were given different doses of iron drops (0, 1, or 2 mg per kg daily) from the age of 6 weeks to 6 months (1). Among children who were given placebo drops (no iron) 36% had iron deficiency and 10% iron-deficiency anemia at the age of 6 months, whereas the corresponding figures for children who received 2 mg of iron were 4% and 0%. At greatest risk of developing iron deficiency were those children who were fully breast-fed at the age of 6 weeks. They ran an 18% risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia by the age of 6 months if they did not receive iron drops. The study indicated no negative effects from iron drops on the children's growth, infections, or other morbidity.
The researchers commented that their findings will hopefully lead to a change in nutrition recommendations, as most children with marginally low birth weights in Sweden are considered healthy and are not given iron drops. The study indicates that these children should be given iron drops, to reduce the risk of developing iron deficiency and anemia, they said.
It has recently been discovered that both birth weight and the infants' nutrition supply are important risk factors for later morbidity in adulthood. Due to high nutritional requirements, infants with low birth weight are at risk of developing nutrient deficiencies during their first year of life, including iron deficiency. Iron is necessary for the production of hemoglobin for the blood, and also for the development of the brain. Iron deficiency in infants has been shown to be associated with poor neurological development.