Study Finds That Children With Obesity Are More Likely To Experience Iron Deficiency

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A recent study conducted by researchers from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom has revealed that children and teenagers who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of iron deficiency.

This study, the first of its kind to investigate this link in children, highlights the importance of iron in the human body. Iron plays a crucial role in transporting oxygen, cell respiration, and storing oxygen in muscles.

The researchers analyzed numerous medical studies from 44 countries involving individuals under 25 years old, examining levels of iron and other essential vitamins and minerals in relation to weight.

The findings indicated that iron deficiency was prevalent among both underweight and overweight children and adolescents. The researchers emphasized that iron deficiency can have detrimental effects on brain function,

Exposure to certain harmful substances can impair cognitive functions, including attention, concentration, and memory, and may also increase the likelihood of developing conditions like autism and ADHD.

This warning comes from research led by Xiaomian Tan, a doctoral researcher at the University of Leeds’ School of Food Science and Nutrition.

Stated, “The relationship between undernutrition and critical micronutrients for childhood growth and development is well established, but less is known about the risk of deficiencies in iron, vitamin A and zinc in children and adolescents who are overweight or obese, making this a hidden form of malnutrition.

“Our research is hugely important given the high prevalence of obesity in children. We hope it will lead to increased recognition of the problem by healthcare practitioners and improvements in clinical practice and care.”

According to the researchers,  the problem of iron deficiency has been linked to malnutrition and it is a particular concern for lower- and middle-income countries where hunger may be the leading cause of mortality for young children.

“Increasingly though it is being recognised that vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also occur in people who are overweight and obese and who have a nutrient-poor but energy-dense diet, something which has been described as ‘hidden hunger’.

“In high-income countries, it is associated with ultra-processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, salt, and energy but in lower- and middle-income countries obesity is often associated with poverty and monotonous diets with limited choices of staples such as corn, wheat, rice, and potatoes”,

According to researchers, many developing countries are grappling with both malnutrition and overnutrition, particularly among children aged 5-19, due to the alarming rise in global obesity rates.

While higher-income countries focus on overnutrition, developing nations like those in Africa and Asia are struggling with undernutrition, despite experiencing a significant double burden of malnutrition due to adopting Western-style diets high in sugar and fat.

Nutritionist Yemisi Solanke-Lawal emphasizes the importance of healthy eating for pregnant and breastfeeding women to ensure their children receive adequate iron and mitigate the risk of malnutrition.

Solanke-Lawal mentioned, “Iron is essential in the body of all humans. Its functions are to transport oxygen around the body, cell respiration, and as well store oxygen in muscles.

“Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common nutritionally deficiency in the world, affecting a quarter of the global population, especially those less than five years of age with high prevalence in Africa.”

The nutritionist listed physical signs of iron deficiency anaemia in children to include “fatigue, breathlessness on exertion, anorexia, insomnia, spoon-shaped fingers, high blood pressure and severe cases of oedema, the whiteness of fingernails and the mucous membrane in the mouth and under eyelids,” stating such required urgent attention.
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