The study – published in Pediatrics – investigated the effects of iron supplementation on the long terms cognitive functions low birth weight infants.
Led by Staffan Berglund from Umeå University in Sweden, the research team gave nearly 300 low birth weight (LBW) infants a supplement containing between zero and two mg per kg of iron in a randomised controlled trial.
“At age three-and-a-half, these infants and 95 who had a normal birth weight were assessed for intelligence and behaviour,” explained the researchers.
Berglund and his team noted that while there were no significant differences in IQ between the low birth weight groups and the normal birth weight groups, there was a significant effect on other behavioural problems such as ADHD.
“Of the low birth weight infants who received no iron supplements, 12.7 percent showed signs of behaviour problems, compared to 2.9 percent of infants in the 1-mg group and 2.7 percent of the 2-mg group,” said the researchers.
Study authors conclude the results demonstrate long-term health benefits of early iron supplementation of otherwise healthy, marginally low birth weight infants.
“Early iron supplementation of marginally LBW infants does not affect cognitive functions at 3.5 years of age but significantly reduces the prevalence of behavioural problems,” said the researchers.
“The study suggests a causal relation between infant iron deficiency and later behavioural problems.”