Objective: To thoroughly investigate the association between the consumption of cow's milk and anemia in childhood.
Sources of data: The information was gathered from papers catalogued in Lilacs and MEDLINE and published during the last two decades, and also from textbooks and publications by international organizations.
Summary of the findings: Iron deficiency anemia is a severe public health problem in developing countries. Breast milk contains adequate iron for full term babies in the first 6 months. Thereafter, an additional iron-rich diet becomes essential. In recognition of the importance of the diet in triggering anemia, this paper discusses the relationship in children between a high intake of cow's milk and iron deficiency anemia. Gastrointestinal and allergic problems may be caused by early introduction of cow's milk or by its substitution for breast milk. Furthermore, cow's milk has decreased iron density and bioavailability, excess protein and minerals, notably calcium, and thus interferes in the absorption of iron from other foods, and is also linked to small intestinal hemorrhage in young children.
Conclusions: The use of cow's milk in lieu of other foods rich in bioavailable iron was shown to be a risk factor for anemia. Exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life, discretionary weaning only after the 24th month, and a complementary diet rich in iron are highly important to avoid anemia and its consequences.