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Infant Iron Deficiency Lowers Teen Test Scores

Children from poorer families face highest cognitive risk, researchers say

MONDAY, Nov. 6, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Teens who were iron-deficient as infants scored lower on cognitive tests of thinking, learning and memory than their peers, and this gap is particularly evident among poor children, new research shows.

Previous research has found that children with low levels of iron in their blood have worse scores on cognitive tests than those who aren't iron-deficient. Many children around the world have low iron levels.

In this study, University of Michigan researchers studied 185 children who lived in an urban area of Costa Rica. The children were an average of 17 months old when they were first screened for iron deficiency when the study began in 1983 to 1985.

The children were given cognitive tests at the beginning of the study and again at ages 5, 11 to 14, 15 to 18 and 19 years.

Of the children in the study, 87 were from middle-class families and 98 were from poorer families. The researchers found that 62 percent of the children with chronic iron deficiency were from poorer families.

Among the children from middle-class families, initial scores on cognitive tests were 101.2 for those with iron deficiency and 109.3 for those with sufficient iron levels. This gap remained at eight or nine points until the children were 19 years old.

Among the children from poorer families, the initial scores on cognitive tests were 93.1 for those with iron deficiency and 102.8 for those with normal iron levels. By age 19, that gap had widened to 25 points -- 70.4 vs. 95.3.

That kind of difference is likely to have a major impact on success in school and career choices in adulthood, the study authors noted. They said the findings emphasize the need to identify children at risk for iron deficiency in order to take steps to prevent or treat the condition in infancy.

The findings were published in the November issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about children and iron.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Nov. 6, 2006
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