Iron deficiency in toddlers is associated with impaired cognition and is an underestimated and undertreated problem. The prevalence of iron deficiency anemia (IDA) during the first year of life has been dramatically reduced in developed countries, mainly due to the increase in breastfeeding and the use of iron-fortified feeding formulae. However, in US and UK children aged 1–2 years, recent studies have shown prevalence rates of >10% and 30% for IDA and iron deficiency, respectively. The daily iron intake in children aged 1–2 years is lower than in any other age group during life. IDA during the first 2 years of life is associated with impaired mental and psychomotor development and these deficits are long lasting, and perhaps irreversible, despite the correction of the anemia. Another compelling reason to prevent iron deficiency in children, especially in children aged 1–2 years, is the proven association of iron deficiency with increased lead absorption. Lead-associated cognitive deficits occur at blood lead levels <10 μg/L, a level once thought to be harmless.
The current prevalence rates of iron deficiency and IDA in toddlers, especially among those in the lower socioeconomic groups, are unacceptably high. These young children are doubly at risk for neurodevelopmental impairment, both from the iron deficiency itself as well as from CNS damage caused by the associated increased lead absorption. The current screening and treatment recommendations for IDA in the US and in other developed countries appear to have been unsuccessful in preventing iron deficiency and IDA in a large number of toddlers. Similarly, the associated problem of impaired mental and psychomotor development has not been adequately recognized or addressed in the existing medical literature.
The author recommends that, after breastfeeding or an iron-fortified formula is stopped, iron deficiency and IDA be prevented by routine daily supplemental doses of 10mg of elemental iron via iron-fortified vitamins, iron drops, or iron-fortified drinks.