News / Health

Iron Supplements Reduce Cognitive and Behavioral Problems in Small Babies

Jessica Berman
Underweight babies born deficient in iron are at risk of developing cognitive and behavioral problems, according to experts.   Now, researchers have discovered that supplementing those babies' diets with iron prevents developmental problems in more than one-third of the children.

Magnus Domellof, head of pediatrics at Umea University in Sweden, says low birth-weight babies, weighing from 2,000 to 2,500 grams, look normal, but about 30 percent are iron-deficient at six months, and 10 percent develop a condition called iron-deficient anemia.

As these children get older, Domellof says iron deficiency can lead to behavioral problems, including attention problems, anxiety and depression, compared to babies treated with iron supplements.  

Domellof’s team studied a group of 285 newborns, and gave the borderline low-weight babies iron drops daily for six months.  Another group of 90 infants in a placebo group in the study received drops of sugar water that contained no iron.

When researchers followed up with the children three years later, they found only 3 percent of the subjects in the treated group displayed behavioral and cognitive problems, compared to 13 percent among those in the untreated placebo group.  Iron deficiency did not appear to affect the children’s IQ scores.

Although it was a small study, Domellof says his research is the first to show a direct link between iron deficiency and development-related attention and emotional problems in low birth-weight babies.  Domellof says these babies are typically ignored because they look relatively normal at birth.

“They are about 5 percent of all infants in the U.S.  They are quite often neglected in studies, even though the few studies that have been performed actually show that these are at increased risk for behavioral problems, school problems, like that,” Domellof said.

Domellof notes that even if a breast-feeding mother is taking iron supplements, that iron does not transfer to her child through her breast milk.  Iron-deficient children must take iron supplements directly with their food.

Domellof says he intends to revisit the children in his study in a few years to look at their IQ scores.

“Actually what we are doing is following up these children at seven years of age to see if we can find any subtle differences in intelligence,” Domellof said.

According to the World Health Organization, iron deficiency -- a leading cause of anemia -- is the most common micronutrient disorder in both developing and developed countries.  An estimated two billion people suffer from anemia, and 40 percent of preschool-children are believed to be anemic, while low iron reserves contribute to one-fifth of maternal deaths.

The article on the role iron supplements can play in preventing development problems in small babies is published in the journal Pediatrics.

You May Like

South Korea Divided on Response to North’s Cyber Attack

In past five years, officials in Seoul have accused Pyongyang of hacking into banks, government websites, causing chaos and inflicting millions of dollars in damages More

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Bentiu

Residents have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy, but planning for the future remains uncertain as fear of attacks looms More

2015 Could Be Watershed for Syria Conflict

Republican control of US Senate in January could lead to more aggressive policy against IS militants in Syria - and against regime of Bashar al-Assad More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jane Monheit Christmas Speciali
X
December 22, 2014 8:15 PM
Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Jane Monheit Christmas Special

Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Trade Talks Could Heat Up in 2015

With boosting trade a top priority for the Obama administration, 2015 may be the year that an agreement is finally reached on the Trans Pacific Partnership. But the trade deal, which is intended to boost trade between 12 Pacific countries, faces opposition as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil War

In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Town of Bentiu

Six months ago, Bentiu was a ghost town. The capital of northern Unity State, near South Sudan’s important oil fields, had changed hands several times in fighting between government forces and rebels. Calm returned in November and since then, residents of Bentiu have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy. Bentiu’s market has reopened there are plans to start school again. But fears of new attacks hang heavy, as Benno Muchler reports from Bentiu.
Video

Video US Business Groups Press for Greater Access to Cuba

President Barack Obama's decision to do all he can to ease restrictions on U.S. trade, travel and financial activities with Cuba has drawn criticism from some conservatives and Republicans. People who bring tourists to the island and farmers who want to sell more food to Cuba, however, think they can do a lot more business with Cuba. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school

All About America

AppleAndroid