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Iron Deficiency Significant Problem in U.S.

Aired October 11, 2002 - 08:48   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Something we all need to be aware of this morning. Health officials have known for years that iron deficiency can be a problem for women and children. It can cause developmental and behavioral problems in children, but still, in the last decade, they have spent -- or, actually, seen very little improvement.
Joining us now from Atlanta to talk about how to get the right amount of iron in your diet is our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- how are you doing this morning?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula. Well, I will tell you, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency anywhere in the world. And we've known that, as you said, Paula, for a long time time.

I think what is sort of striking is the significant prevalence right here in this country. Let's just look at some of the numbers.

As you said, amongst toddlers now, that is kids 1 to 2 years old, 7 percent of these kids have iron deficiency. Adolescents and adult females, age 12 to 49 years -- now this is the most at-risk population -- you can see here in the United States, 9 to 16 percent. That is very significant, Paula.

We hear about anemia, we hear about iron deficiency anemia. Just to go over a couple of terms, first of all, iron is located, really, in every cell in the body, but the most important cells are red blood cells, and that is because the iron is the component that is responsible for actually transporting oxygen from the lungs to everyone else in the body. You don't have enough iron, you are not getting enough oxygen to the rest of your body. People have seen paleness of skin, tiredness, things like that.

It's also responsible for just about every reaction that occurs in the body. So any of the metabolic reactions that occur in your body, iron is required for those reactions to take place. You don't have enough iron, your body starts to slow down. We mentioned the toddlers and the adolescent and adult women. Mexican -- I am sorry, Hispanics and African-Americans have twice -- women, that is -- have twice the rate of other women in this country, about 22 percent on average, compared to about 10 percent on average as well.

So you can see that is pretty significant. There is something called the 2010 health objective. That is something that is a sort of a conglomerate of HHS and FDA and various other health organizations that talk about some objectives for the United States. They would like to get those numbers significantly down, less than 1 percent for toddlers and about 7 percent for adolescent and adult women. That is the goal -- Paula.

ZAHN: What do we got to put back into our diets?

GUPTA: Well -- here is the good part. It is pretty easy to replenish a lot of your iron stores. But again, let me just go over a couple of terms to make it a little bit more clearer. You talk about iron deficiency and you talk about iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency is something that people can get along with OK. What that means is that your stored iron is not up to par. You don't have enough of it in your store, in your bank, so to speak.

If you have iron deficiency anemia, it means that not only are the stores down, but also the circulating or functional iron is also down. If you have it, you are going to see these symptoms -- weakness and fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, difficulty concentrating, irritability, dizziness, ringing in the ears, and something known as pica -- this is a very interesting phenomenon, Paula. We don't see that this much in this country. But basically, that is when kids typically are eating inappropriate foods like dirt because they actually crave the iron in the dirt, so they will actually try and get that food into their system by actually eating dirt.

Again, we don't see that that much here, but those are some of the symptoms if the iron deficiency is significant.

ZAHN: So, back to what we're supposed to do about it.

GUPTA: Well, there is lots of food that you can eat, certainly, like I said, in the diet. There is oysters, liver, lean red meat, poultry, tuna fish, salmon. You can read all the foods there. There is also more vegetarian foods as well, dried beans, whole grains, dried fruits, and dark leafy vegetables, the darker green the better.

But certainly, eating those foods, especially if you are a pregnant woman, that is when risk of iron deficiency anemia is highest.

ZAHN: We all have to learn to love those dark, leafy vegetables. Thanks, doctor.

GUPTA: The greener, the better.

ZAHN: Yes, exactly. You're a big proponent of blueberries for a whole host of other reasons.

GUPTA: Exactly.


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