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Iron Deficiency In Kids: The Cognitive Block You Want To Avoid

Posted on 26th July 2019 | Cognition

Does your child grasp new concepts quickly? If yes, your child has good cognitive abilities. Cognition refers to the action or the process through which an individual acquires knowledge and understanding.

The association between iron deficiency and impaired cognitive development has long been established. 1 Iron deficiency has been found to be a contributing factor to anemia. In fact, as per the World Health Organization (WHO), 65.5% of preschool children across South East Asia are anemic., 2,3 In India, 58.5% of children from 6 months to 5 years of age are anemic. 4You may be surprised to know that out of all micronutrients, iron is the most commonly deficient. This high prevalence of iron deficiency (ID) is seen in industrialized countries but especially in developing countries such as India.2,3

So, what makes ID such a major nutritional problem for developing countries? The main reason is the insufficient dietary intake of iron. Toddlers are especially susceptible to iron deficiency because their rapid growth phase demands higher iron intake.5

Impaired cognitive function is one of the most common and vital, yet unrecognized neurological manifestation of ID and IDA.4 A study has shown that pre-school children (age 3-5 years)6 with ID and IDA showed inattentiveness and impaired higher cognitive functions7 (e.g. working memory, willed action, mental imagery etc.). The most commonly observed cognitive impairments cause by ID include those related to:8

  • Attention span
  • Intelligence
  • Sensory perception functions

So, do disturbances in cognition occur in children who are deficient in iron but do not have IDA? The answer is yes.9

A young child's developing body requires iron in order to grow. Right from the brain tissue to his or her immune system, needs iron in order to develop adequately. 10,11 In developing countries, the prevalence of iron deficiency among infants and young children is high. Most children today do not consume the required amount of iron through their diet. Given this high prevalence of ID and IDA, iron supplementation for children below 5 years of age is recommended.9 It has been seen that iron-deficient anemic preschoolers (3-4 years of age) when supplemented with iron showed improvements in discrimination learning (the ability to respond differently to different stimuli) and selective attention.12

Your child needs iron to grow, develop, and stay healthy. Since children commonly do not consume adequate iron through their diet, iron supplementation is needed to fill this dietary gap in iron.13 Iron supplementation is more effective than dietary intervention alone.14 So, supplement your child's health with some much-needed iron.


1 WHO/UNICEF/UNU: Iron Deficiency Anaemia: Assessment, Prevention, and Control. A Guide for Programme Managers. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2001.

2 World Health Organization (WHO) The Global Prevalence of Anemia in 2011. WHO; Geneva, Switzerland: 2015.

3 World Health Organization (WHO) Haemoglobin Concentrations for the Diagnosis of Anaemia and Assessment of Severity. Vitamin and Mineral Nutrition Information System. WHO; Geneva, Switzerland: 2011.

4 International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) and ICF. 2017. National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2015-16: India. Mumbai: IIPS

5 Eden AN. Iron deficiency and impaired cognition in toddlers: an underestimated and undertreated problem. Paediatr Drugs. 2005;7(6):347-52. Review.

6 Preschooler (3-5 years old) | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved from

7 Pollitt E, Saco-Pollitt C, Leibel AL, et al. Iron deficiency and behavioral development in infants and pre-school children. Am J Clin Nutr 1986; 43: 555-65

8 Jáuregui-Lobera I. Iron deficiency and cognitive functions. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2014;:2087.

9 Black MM. Micronutrient deficiencies and cognitive functioning. J Nutr. 2003;133:3927S-3931S.

10 Iannotti LL, Tielsch JM, Black MM, Black RE. Iron supplementation in early childhood: health benefits and risks.Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Dec;84(6):1261-76. Review.

11 Beard JL. Iron biology in immune function, muscle metabolism and neuronal functioning. J Nutr. 2001;131:568S-80S.

12 Metallinos-Katsaras E, Valassi-Adam E, Dewey KG, Lönnerdal B, Stamoulakatou A, Pollitt E. Effect of iron supplementation on cognition in Greek preschoolers. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2004 Nov;58(11):1532-42.

13 Harvard Health Publishing. Should you get your nutrients from food or from supplements? [Internet]. Harvard Health. [cited 2019Jul4]. Available from:

14 Pediatric Anemia (iron-deficiency) [Internet]. Children's National - Ranked Top Five Children's Hospital in the Nation. [cited 2019Jul4]. Available from:

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Copyright 2021 Inzpera. All Rights Reserved.