Young Girls, Women Are at High Risk of Iron Deficiency: Study

2 min read

June 28, 2023 – Nearly 40% of girls and young women in the U.S. may have iron deficiency, which can lead to fatigue and increase the risk of many health problems, according to a new study. 

The researchers also found that 6 in every 100 of the girls and young women had extremely low iron levels, known as iron-deficiency anemia, which impacts the blood’s ability to carry oxygen throughout the body.

The findings suggest that current screening guidelines for iron levels in girls and women may be flawed, resulting in missed chances to get a simple blood test that can diagnose the easy-to-treat condition. Iron supplements are often prescribed as a treatment.

The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association and included 12 years of data for a total of nearly 3,500 girls and women ages 12 to 21 years old.

In addition to shortness of breath and fatigue, other symptoms of iron deficiency anemia are: 

  • Pale skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Unusual cravings for non-food items such as ice, dirt, or paper

The Cleveland Clinic says the most common causes of iron-deficiency anemia are those that involve blood loss, including heavy menstrual periods. The body gets iron from food, and not getting enough iron from food, such as due to eating a vegan or vegetarian diet, can also lead to deficiency. 

In this latest study, researchers found that young women and girls’ likelihood to have iron deficiency or iron-deficiency anemia were significantly linked to race and ethnicity, poverty status, access to sufficient or quality food (also called food insecurity), and body mass index. Black and Hispanic girls and women were more likely to have iron level problems, compared to White girls and women. Black girls and women were four times more likely to have iron-deficiency anemia, compared to White girls and women.

The authors did not discuss potential causes and suggested further study is needed to identify risk factors of iron deficiency in girls and young women.