Iron is keeping pregnant women healthy across the globe. But what impact can it have once the baby is born? Research by California State University, Northridge kinesiology professor and international collaborator Rosa Angulo-Barroso is exploring the effects of iron supplementation on the motor development of infants, and their preliminary findings are positive.
A study published in the Pediatrics Journal earlier this year, revealed that infants from Beijing, China, that received iron supplementation from six weeks to nine months had improvements in their gross motor skills compared to those who did not. Gross motor skills cover the use of large muscles and locomotion.
Angulo-Barroso explained the research results provide insight into how iron supplementation is vital to helping children do better in other aspects of their development.
“It is almost a cascading effect,” she said. “It creates more cognition, more emotional and social development. The fact that iron supplementing the kid in this six weeks all the way to nine months helps them have better scores is so important.”
However, infants who had a mild iron deficiency were just as likely to have issues in motor development as those who were iron deficient and anemic.
“Iron deficiency is very common,” Angulo-Barroso added. “The level of iron deficiency with anemia is different, since you have a low red blood cell count. We are not talking about that level of iron deficiency here. One is more severe than the other. And even though iron deficiency is a lower level, still, we are finding these effects [in motor development].”
Angulo-Barroso explained that while iron supplementation helped, more studies are being done to look at the status of iron levels in the infants and mothers, as opposed to just the iron supplementation. This way, more effects can be analyzed in the data set.
She said that the most important outcome of the study was that even if the iron levels are not severely low, having a slight deficiency can clearly impact the development of the children, and more tests can be done to help identify it.
“This is the interesting part to me, since kids don’t get screened for iron deficiency, just iron deficiency anemia,” she said. “[Most doctors] don’t look at other markers for iron deficiency, they only look at hemoglobin levels. Have your iron levels assessed, not only your hemoglobin levels.”
Angulo-Barroso has worked with and assessed the iron levels of various populations around the world for the past 17 years, including those from Chile, Costa Rica and the United States. She said she was shocked to discover how common iron deficiency was, no matter the country.
“A lot of these early developing countries did not have a policy of reinforcing iron in their formulas for the babies,” she said. “It was a lot easier to go to these countries and examine and finding a population that was iron deficient early in life. Because in the U.S. everything has been fortified, we thought it would be harder to find an iron deficient population. Amazingly, about 20 percent of babies in the Detroit area were iron deficient. We are continuing to explore more effects of iron on the development of these children.”