Children and Anemia
University of Maryland Medical Center, “Up to 20% of American children and 80% of children in developing countries become anemic at some point during their childhood and adolescence. Iron deficiency affects about 9% of children younger than 2 years. About 3% of children in this age group are anemic as a result.”
These percentages are slowly and steadily increasing each year, unfortunately, because of the lack of nutritional education and motivation to have a healthy lifestyle.
The most commonly known form of anemia is iron deficiency anemia, which is a decrease in red blood cells. The human body naturally absorbs iron from certain foods and, if need be, will reuse iron from our old red blood cells. This is a critical function in infants and young children because of several growth spurts, not just physically, but mentally as well. Iron is vital for brain development in addition to cell, bone, muscle, and healthy organ growth.
There is a massive list of symptoms for anemia. If your child has three or more of these symptoms, contact your pediatrician as soon as possible for a blood test to confirm a diagnosis, and so you can begin a regimen to treat it. The Children's Hospital of Wisconsin’s list of symptoms includes:
- Abnormal paleness or lack of color of the skin.
- Increased heart rate (tachycardia).
- Breathlessness, or difficulty catching a breath (dyspnea).
- Lack of energy, or tiring easily (fatigue).
- Dizziness, or vertigo especially when standing.
- Irregular menstruation cycles (for female children).
- Absent or delayed menstruation (amenorrhea).
- Sore or swollen tongue (glossitis).
- Jaundice, or yellowing of skin, eyes, and mouth.
- Enlarged spleen or liver (splenomegaly, hepatomegaly).
- Slow or delayed growth and development.
- Impaired wound and tissue healing.
Generally, anemia in children is caused by poor nutrition. But other causes are infection, certain diseases, and certain medications. In instances where anemia can be controlled through diet, the best way to increase iron and red blood cells is to consume more of these foods:
- Red meat.
- Egg yolks.
- Dark, leafy greens (spinach, collards).
- Dried fruit (prunes, raisins).
- Iron-enriched cereals and grains (check the labels).
- Mollusks (oysters, clams, scallops).
- Turkey or chicken giblets.
- Beans, lentils, chick peas, and soybeans.
For infants who are not yet on solid foods, the best way to get iron is either through a breast-feeding mother who consumes these iron-enriched foods, or if your baby is bottle fed, by powdered formula with added DHA and iron. If your child needs additional help to increase iron, your pediatrician can prescribe iron pills and give additional advice and direction.
If we can get a handle on anemia and improve our children’s eating habits, then these percentages can go down, in every age group, and each generation can live longer, healthier, and happier lives, without the restrictions anemia causes.