Iron deficiency anemia in Indian children – causes, prevalence and management


Iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) is a common type of anemia which causes about half of the anemia cases reported in the world. It is estimated that over 1 billion people are iron-deficient. Women are more likely to be affected by IDA than men. IDA can be caused by low intake of iron, low absorption, or loss of iron from bleeding in the intestine, uterus or urinary tract. (1)

Key Point: Anemia is common in Indian children. There can be several reasons for anemia in Indian children, but nutritional deficiency of iron was reported to be most common. Parental education and iron-rich complementary foods remain as the most important methods to prevent this important childhood problem. Prevention, early detection and treatment of IDA could help control this epidemic in India.

IDA is one of the biggest nutrition-related health problems in children across the globe, especially in developing countries like India. IDA is known to decrease children’s normal physical and cognitive development. Strong measures are needed to prevent, detect and treat iron deficiency anemia in children, so that they can achieve their optimal potential. The present review gives a brief overview of the prevalence and management of iron deficiency anemia in Indian children.

Prevalence of anemia in Indian children

According to the data available from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) III in 2005-06, 79% of the children in India were found to be anemic. Anemia incidence was found more in rural areas, in comparison to urban areas (84% and 71% respectively) (2). The anemia prevalence in children under three years of age was increased by five percent (74% to 79%) in the NFHS III survey, in comparison with the NFHS II survey, while the prevalence of severe anemia decreased from NFHS II to NFHS III (3). According to a review by Kotecha, about 73 million children below three years of age have some form anemia, and over 50 million have moderate to severe symptoms (4). A comparison of the NFHS III data with data available from 1970 on anemia prevalence in Indian children shows that IDA remains a major problem in Indian children from 1970 through 2005 (5). According to the study carried out by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau, IDA prevalence among children under 5 year of age was 66%. The prevalence varied from 33 to 93% across various states all over India (6).

Effect of IDA on children

Normal physical growth and development is impaired in children with IDA. This ultimately leads to decreased work output and work capacity as an adult (7). IDA was also found to be associated with...

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