Risk factors for low iron intake and poor iron status in a national sample of British young people aged 4-18 years

Public Health Nutr. 2003 Aug;6(5):485-96. doi: 10.1079/PHN2002455.


Objective: To examine the prevalence and dietary, sociodemographic and lifestyle risk factors of low iron intake and poor iron status in British young people.

Design: National Diet and Nutrition Survey of young people aged 4-18 years.

Setting: Great Britain, 1997.

Subjects: In total, 1699 young people provided 7-day weighed dietary records, of which 11% were excluded because the participant reported being unwell with eating habits affected. Blood was obtained from 1193 participants, with iron status indicated by haemoglobin, serum ferritin and transferrin saturation.

Results: Iron intakes were generally adequate in most young people aged 4-18 years. However, low iron intakes (below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake) occurred in 44% of adolescent girls (11-18 years), being less prevalent with high consumption of breakfast cereals. Low haemoglobin concentration (<115 g l-1, 4-12 years; <120 or <130 g l-1, 13+ years for girls and boys, respectively) was observed in 9% of children aged 4-6 years, pubertal boys (11-14 years) and older girls (15-18 years). Adolescent girls who were non-Caucasians or vegetarians had significantly poorer iron status than Caucasians or meat eaters, independent of other risk factors. The three iron status indices were correlated significantly with haem, but not non-haem, iron intake.

Conclusions: Adolescent girls showed the highest prevalence of low iron intake and poor iron status, with the latter independently associated with non-Caucasian ethnicity and vegetarianism. Risk of poor iron status may be reduced by consuming (particularly lean red) meat or enhancers of non-haem iron absorption (e.g. fruit or fruit juice) in vegetarians.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet Records
  • Diet, Vegetarian / adverse effects
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Female
  • Ferritins / blood
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Iron / blood
  • Iron / deficiency*
  • Iron, Dietary / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Nutritional Status
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Transferrin / metabolism
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology


  • Hemoglobins
  • Iron, Dietary
  • Transferrin
  • Ferritins
  • Iron