Iron deficiency is one of the most common causes of anemia in children – it is responsible for around 25% of all such cases. A leading cause of iron deficiency is the lack of access that children below the age of two have to iron-rich food, which is essential for them as they grow. When it comes to children over the age of two, they depend on cow’s milk, instead of iron-rich foods, as a main source of their nutrition, which leads to deficiencies as well. <sup>(11)  </sup> 

One of the many serious issues with iron deficiency anemia is that children who have it may show no symptoms, but it could still be affecting their psychological development. Kids who have suffered from long-term iron deficiency are more nervous, negative, and anxious, and are less resilient in the face of problems. These are serious issues that contribute to anxiety and depression and they may never go away, even if the deficiency is treated. <sup>(7)     </sup>

On top of these psychological issues, iron deficiency also impairs children’s cognitive abilities, including their language skills and auditory awareness, and increases their likelihood of developing ADHD. <sup>(2)</sup> In fact, the more severe the deficiency, the more extreme the ADHD symptoms, such as hyperactivity, distraction, and inattentiveness. <sup>(8)</sup>

There is also a link between iron deficiency and autism, an illness that weakens a child’s ability to interact with those around him. Similar to the case of ADHD, children with autism and iron deficiency tend to suffer more severe symptoms than children suffering from just one affliction. <sup>(5)       </sup>

One of the most frightening things about iron deficiency is this: children who suffered from it when they were younger than 5 or 10 years old continue to experience symptoms years after treatment, even when all lab results show improvement. These children have lower academic achievement and weaker fine motor skills than those who had healthy iron levels while growing up. <sup>(9) (10)</sup>

The lesson to take away from this is that, while it is good to diagnose and treat anemia as early as possible, it is best to prevent it altogether to protect children from its permanent effects.

Dr. Manar Al-Shawabkah

Pediatrician and Neonatologist

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