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How can we identify schoolgirls at risk of low iron status and what dietary advice should we be giving?
Project Code: N08017
Ashwell, M ;
SiG Nurture Ltd.
Iron is arguably the most marginal nutrient in the diet of girls and young women in
Britain. The risk of poor iron status is increased in puberty and adolescence due to a
combination of accelerated growth and the onset of menarche, exacerbated by low
intakes of iron in some groups. The NDNS of young people found that 27% of the oldest
girls (15-18 years) had low iron stores (serum ferritin < 15 μg/l) while 9% were anaemic
(Hb below 12g/dl).
Among children of school age, low iron status has been associated with poorer IQ scores,
maths scores and educational attainment (Halterman, Kaczorowski et al. 2001). One
study of iron supplementation has shown benefits on verbal learning and memory in girls
who were iron deficient but not anaemic (Bruner, Joffe et al. 1996), but other smaller
studies have not (Pollitt, Soemantri et al. 1985) (Pollitt, Hathirat et al. 1989). A major
recent review has concluded that the evidence from randomised controlled trials is
“reasonably convincing but not conclusive” (Grantham-McGregor and Ani 2001). In the
light of evidence that a significant proportion of girls and young women in Britain have
undiagnosed mild iron deficiency, there may however be grounds to support a public
health nutrition approach to improving iron status in this population. The Scientific
Advisory Committee on Nutrition (Working Group on Iron) is currently considering the
issue of iron status in vulnerable groups.
The models and scoring tool scoring tool gave a fair prediction of low iron status based
on 5 key variables (~65%), whereas a prediction based on low iron intake (<LRNI)
was no better than chance. However, the tool developed from these data should ideally
be validated in an independent sample of girls or young women. The new NDNS data
on 19-34 year old women could be analysed for comparative purposes. Dietary
messages such as those suggested could be used by the Agency to help provide
guidance for young girls who may be at risk of low iron status.
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