Objective: To review the prevalence of iron deficiency in developed countries, the influence of lifestyle factors that may contribute to its occurrence, and dangers of population directed prevention.
Design: Relevant literature was selected to identify populations at risk for iron deficiency and iron overload.
Results: Although iron deficiency anaemia is not a major health problem in developed countries, specific groups of the population remain endangered. These groups are young children, adolescents, pregnant women, the elderly, blood donors, vegetarians, endurance athletes and migrants. On the other hand, about 10% of Caucasians carry the mutation for hereditary haemochromatosis and are at risk for iron overload.
Conclusion: Measures to prevent iron deficiency should be specifically aimed at population groups at risk. Actions to increase iron intake and bioavailability in the general population can be harmful for subjects with homozygous and heterozygous forms of iron overload diseases.