Iron supplementation in infancy contributes to more adaptive behavior at 10 years of age

J Nutr. 2014 Jun;144(6):838-45. doi: 10.3945/jn.113.182048. Epub 2014 Apr 9.


Most studies of behavioral/developmental effects of iron deficiency anemia (IDA) or iron supplementation in infancy have found social-emotional differences. Differences could relate to behavioral inhibition or lack of positive affect and altered response to reward. To determine long-term behavioral effects, the study was a follow-up of a randomized controlled trial of behavioral/developmental effects of preventing IDA in infancy. Healthy Chilean infants free of IDA at age 6 mo were randomly assigned to iron supplementation or no added iron (formula with iron/powdered cow milk, vitamins with/without iron) from ages 6 to 12 mo. At age 10 y, 59% (666 of 1123) and 68% (366 of 534) of iron-supplemented and no-added-iron groups were assessed. Social-emotional outcomes included maternal-reported behavior problems, self-reported behavior, examiner ratings, and video coding of a social stress task and gamelike paradigms. Examiners rated the iron-supplemented group as more cooperative, confident, persistent after failure, coordinated, and direct and reality-oriented in speech and working harder after praise compared with the no-added-iron group. In a task designed to elicit positive affect, supplemented children spent more time laughing and smiling together with their mothers and started smiling more quickly. In the social stress task they smiled and laughed more and needed less prompting to complete the task. All P values were <0.05; effect sizes were 0.14-0.36. There were no differences in behaviors related to behavioral inhibition, such as anxiety/depression or social problems. In sum, iron supplementation in infancy was associated with more adaptive behavior at age 10 y, especially in affect and response to reward, which may improve performance at school and work, mental health, and personal relationships.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / drug effects*
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / prevention & control
  • Child
  • Chile
  • Depression / prevention & control
  • Depression / psychology
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Emotions / drug effects*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Iron, Dietary / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Iron, Dietary