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It’s cold and flu season, so no big surprise that I am seeing lots of coughs, colds, sore throats and fevers. What is surprising though is all of the infants and children with anemia. Most cases of anemia in children are a result of iron deficiency and that’s exactly what I am seeing. In fact, iron deficiency is one of the most common yet undetected problems in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening for anemia at the 9-month, 2-year, and 5-year exams. Because of how common anemia seems to be, I not only follow these guidelines, but I check at 9 months, and every well-child exam from 2 years and up.

It’s surprising to me how many cases of iron deficiency I diagnose. Surprising enough that it compelled me to write about it! The good news…. it’s pretty easy to fix. I recommend starting with a vitamin with iron and dietary changes. Gummy vitamins do not contain iron, so make sure you pick out a liquid or chewable vitamin. The vitamins are the easy half of the fix; the diet can be a little trickier. There are lots of foods fortified with iron, which are helpful, but the body actually absorbs and utilizes iron best from the natural source. Red meat, eggs, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit (like prunes and raisins), soy products and beans are the best sources. In addition, foods rich in vitamin C, like citrus, help the body absorb iron. Dairy and other foods high in calcium can actually bind iron, so make sure not to overdo it.

A typical case of iron-deficiency anemia is a toddler who fills up on milk and dairy, with an otherwise very limited diet. Remember, milk does the body good, but only in moderation. On the bright side, once you limit your child’s dairy intake, they actually eat better! Not filling up their stomachs with milk leaves lots of room to be hungry.

Why is iron deficiency so important to fix? Because iron is very important for growth and cognitive functions. Symptoms of anemia come on gradually, so initially you may not even notice. However, it can eventually lead to generalized weakness, irritability, easy fatigability, headaches, poor feeding, anorexia, poor weight gain, and pica (which is a craving to eat non-food things).

 If your child is picky, as many are, you may need to be a bit creative and sneaky. It may be difficult at first, but remember that persistence pays off. Once corrected you will find that your child is happier, more energetic, and can even fight off infections better.

 Some food for thought…. Iron-deficiency anemia does not discriminate. It is seen most commonly in toddlers because of their picky and limited diet; however, any picky eater at any age is at risk for anemia. Finally, adolescent girls are also at risk for anemia and can definitely benefit from a multi-vitamin with iron.  Have your kids been tested for anemia recently?

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