'Alarming' rates of iron deficiency in Australian Indigenous children, study finds

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Researchers assessed 201 school-age students who were undergoing annual screenings. ©iStock
Researchers assessed 201 school-age students who were undergoing annual screenings. ©iStock

Related tags Australia

A study of school children in a Northern Territory Indigenous community has found that around half are iron-deficient, leading researchers to claim it is a major public health problem.

Rates of iron deficiency, or anaemia, in this population are many times higher than in the general Australian population.

The report, published in the Australian Journal of Rural Health​, said Indigenous Australians have poorer health outcomes compared to the non-Indigenous population, with malnutrition, and subsequently iron-deficiency and anaemia, impairing childhood development.

“The aim of this study was to identify the prevalence of anaemia in school-aged children of an Australian Indigenous community and evaluate the effectiveness of treatment,” ​they wrote.

They studied 201 school-age students (aged 5–15 years old) who were undergoing annual school screenings.

Anaemic and non-anaemic students were compared to determine any differences in age, gender, BMI and past history of anaemia.

The response to treatment, iron supplementation, was analysed using initial and repeat haemoglobin results.

“Altogether, 201 students were screened with 105 (52%) classified as anaemic. No significant association was found between anaemic students and age, gender, BMI or prior history of anaemia.

“After treatment, the mean rise in haemoglobin was 13% (95% CI 11–15) at the 4-week interval. Age (P = 0.17), gender (P = 0.53) and weight (P = 0.14) were not significantly associated with treatment efficacy.”

Only 11 students (17%) were still anaemic after treatment.

Parenteral iron

In terms of treatment, the study suggest oral supplementation is sufficient.

They point out a randomised control trial of Pakistani children found those receiving intramuscular iron supplements resulted in a more rapid rise in haemoglobin compared to oral preparations, but add “the current methods are well tolerated, and the use of parenteral iron has previously been limited in our population setting.”

The authors emphasised anaemia in Indigenous Australian school-aged children is a major public health issue, and stressed the importance of screening programmes.

“The prevalence of anaemia in this population is 52% and many times higher than that of the general Australian population. As per current guidelines, the recommended treatment is effective in over 80% at the 4- week interval. Community wide interventions are required to combat this alarming issue,”​ they concluded.

We recently reported on plans for a rapid iron infusion trial​ in the same region to help tackle the problem.

Source: Australian Journal of Rural Health

doi: 10.1111/ajr.12338

“Anaemia in school-aged children in an Australian Indigenous community”

Authors:  Cristian Udovicich, et al.

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