High prevalence of iron deficiency in European young children

· There is a high prevalence of iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia even in European young children
· Excess iron intakes, especially in children having high iron stores, can pose risks
· Young child formula consumption was shown to be an effective strategy to prevent iron deficiency without leading to excess iron stores
· More research is needed to study more broadly the effect of appropriate solutions to address iron deficiency in young children

Iron deficiency is classified by the WHO as the world’s most common and widespread nutritional disorder ( It is prevalent in infants and young children, even in developed areas of the world such as Europe. While the risks associated with iron deficiency are known, concerns are also emerging about high iron intake and hazards associated with iron supplementation of infants and young children that already have sufficient iron stores. These concerns relate to two adverse health effects: excess iron may influence the gut microbiome and iron supplementation of iron-replete young children may negatively impact health and growth outcomes. Therefore, describing iron status across both the high and low ends of the population distribution curve can provide more insight into young children’s iron status and could help steer decisions around iron fortification and nutritional policies, as well as assess the balance between too much and too little intake.

In young Western European children, recent data are available on the prevalence of iron deficiency, iron deficiency anemia, iron repletion (sufficiency) and excess iron stores.

These data indicate that iron deficiency is common in children that consume cow’s milk as their main milk drink compared to children consuming formula or fortified milks.

In formula consumers, the prevalence of high-end iron stores appeared to be similar to that in the total population, even though the prevalence of iron deficiency was lower. In the European context, the consumption of young child formula seems to be an effective strategy for preventing iron deficiency, while simultaneously avoiding an unfavorably high surge in iron stores.

Further research is needed to further establish the effectiveness of young child formula and to develop and evaluate other strategies that could reduce the prevalence of ID and IDA while preventing excess iron stores. Building on this, studies to examine the effects of increasing or preserving iron status in early childhood on clinical outcomes such as neurodevelopment and overall health are essential for facilitating well-informed decision making and for providing appropriate solutions to address iron deficiency in young children. Similarly, different age-appropriate fortification amounts of infant formulas (e.g., lower amounts during the first months of life when iron needs are minimal) may have lasting effects on the health of children who consume them. Randomized clinical trials to investigate different iron levels in such formulas will likewise lead to greater understanding of their effects on neurodevelopment, growth, and other health outcomes.

For more details about the study, please read the full text of the paper “Iron status of young children in Europe