New study finds 9 out of 10 infants not getting enough iron

19 May 2022
New study finds 9 out of 10 infants not getting enough iron

SAHMRI researchers have conducted the first-ever Australia-wide diet survey of infants and children aged 6 months to 2 years old and found 90% of all infants and a quarter of toddlers are failing to meet the recommended daily iron intake.

The study, supported by a grant from Nestlé Nutrition Institute and led by Professor Tim Green and Dr Merryn Netting, was recently published in Nutrients. The research was based on interviews with 1100 parents, who documented their children’s diets.

While the report showed the majority are getting the right amount of most nutrients, there was one glaring problem.

“We found 90% of infants 6-12 months old were consuming far less iron per day than the recommended amount,” Dr Netting said.

“Not getting enough iron is a concern because we know iron deficiency negatively impacts overall development. It can also cause tiredness, loss of appetite as well as poor growth and lead to anaemia, a condition that reduces oxygen in the body.”

The recommendation is based on the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines that recommend infants consume 7mg of iron daily.

To achieve this amount of iron, infants need to eat around 300g of beef or 400g of fortified cereal.

“It’s possible the recommended iron intake has been set higher than needed and should be reviewed. But we won’t be able to confirm if this is the case without doing further studies with a larger cohort of infants,” Dr Netting said.

“We have no data on blood iron levels or anaemia in this group, and we urgently need it. If iron levels are low, we may need to consider giving infants iron supplements.”

Dr Merryn Netting discusses the findings with 7News Adelaide.

In addition to a lack of iron, the study also found around a third of toddlers are consuming too much salt.

“Too much salt is typically down to eating an excess of processed foods. Children will develop a taste for salty foods that are often unhealthy. This can contribute to poor eating habits down the road, as well as high blood pressure,” Dr Netting said.

On the positive side, breast feeding rates surpassed expectations, with 75% of mothers shown to be breast feeding at 6 months and 50% at 12 months.

“It’s very pleasing to see that so many mothers are opting for breastmilk with all the added nutrients it provides, rather than reaching for baby formula,” Dr Netting said.

Researchers are encouraging parents to feed their children iron rich complementary foods as well as a variety of nutritious family foods consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Support research like this