Iron supplements help African children learn to walk and talk

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, working with the Ministry of Health of Zanzibar, found that iron supplementation improved motor and language development in rural African preschoolers, while an anti-helminth (worm) treatment had a slight but non-significant positive effect on both motor and language development.

The study, which appeared in the December 15, 2001, issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), was the first published investigation of the effects of geohelminth infections on the development of preschool children, and the first study of iron and early child development in Africa.

Iron deficiency anemia is associated with developmental delays that lead to poor performance on scales of mental and motor development among infants and toddlers, as well as on tests of intelligence and cognitive function among preschool and school-age children. The study was carried out in a population exposed to numerous health risks, including widespread malnutrition and infection by Plasmodium falciparum (the cause of the most serious form of malaria) and by geohelminths (worms). In addition, the anemia suffered by the children in the study was more severe than that of children in any other similar published study.

"Our results highlight the presence of severely anemic children in malaria-endemic African communities who are not detected by the current health care system, and who appear to be at significant developmental risk," said lead author Rebecca Stoltzfus, PhD, an associate professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Nearly one third of apparently healthy toddlers in this community were severely anemic. Before intervention, children with severe anemia showed distinct delays in both gross motor and language milestones for their age, and daily oral iron syrup helped to correct those deficits."

In this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial, 614

Contact: Tim Parsons or Ming Tai
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

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