Iron deficiency: the global perspective

Adv Exp Med Biol. 1994:356:219-28. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-2554-7_24.


The prevelance of IDA in industrialized countries has declined in recent decades, but there has been little change in the worldwide prevalence. IDA is currently estimated to affect more than 500 million people. Recent studies have indicated that anemia per se, the most common manifestation of iron deficiency, is less important from a public health standpoint than liabilities associated with tissue iron deficiency. The most important of the latter are an impairment in psychomotor development and cognitive function in infants and preschoolers, a deficit in work performance in adults, and an increase in the frequency of low birth weight, prematurity, and perinatal mortality in pregnancy. There have been several recent advances in combatting nutritional iron deficiency. One of the major problems has been in distinguishing iron deficiency from other causes of anemia seen epidemiologically such as malaria, HIV infection, chronic inflammation, hemoglobinopathies, and protein energy malnutrition. When combined with serum ferritin and hemoglobin determinations, the serum transferrin receptor assay is a valuable addition in epidemiologic surveys because it provides a quantitative measure of functional iron deficiency and it distinguishes true IDA from the anemia of chronic disease. The most difficult challenge is to develop effective methods of supplying iron to large segments of a population. Supplementation with iron tablets is suitable for only brief periods of need such as during pregnancy. The poor compliance with existing supplementation programs is believed to be due mainly to the gastrointestinal side effects of oral iron which can be eliminated by the use of a gastric delivery system. The most effective long-term strategy is to increase the intake of bioavailable iron in the diet. The customary approach has been to fortify a food staple such as wheat, rice, sugar, or salt, and thereby increase the iron intake of the entire population. However, because of concerns about the risk of cancer and heart disease in individuals with high iron stores, there is an increasing reluctance to supply iron to individuals who do not require it. A more effective strategy is to fortify food vehicles that are targeted to segments of the population at greatest risk of iron deficiency such as infants and school children. Because of the strong inhibitory properties of diets in regions of the world where iron deficiency is most prevalent, the use of NaFeEDTA has important advantages for food fortification.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / epidemiology*
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / physiopathology*
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / prevention & control
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Employment
  • Female
  • Food, Fortified
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Iron / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence
  • Public Health


  • Iron