Feature Article

Iron deficiency in infants and young children

Jane R Allen, Louise A Baur



Iron deficiency is a common nutrient deficiency in infants and young children that can usually be treated with iron supplements and diet modification. However, GPs can also play an important role in preventing iron deficiency by encouraging a varied diet that contains sufficient dietary iron in a bioavailable form.

Key Points

  • Iron deficiency is a common nutrient deficiency in young children and is usually asymptomatic. However, it may be associated with impaired psychomotor development in those with severe or long term anaemia.
  • Low birth weight babies, who have reduced iron stores at birth, are at special risk of developing iron deficiency.
  • Diagnosis may be suspected after taking a routine feeding history. Confirmation is via laboratory testing.
  • Treatment includes iron supplementation and, most commonly, increasing levels of bioavailable iron in the diet. Dietary measures may involve combining meals with an enhancer of iron absorption; avoiding eating foods containing inhibitors of iron absorption with main meals; or including a variety of foods rich in haem or non-haem iron in the diet.
  • While nutritional causes are by far the most common reason for iron deficiency in children, other causes include occult gastrointestinal blood loss with cow’s milk protein enteropathy, or haemangiomas.