Low iron counts and even anaemia due to iron deficiency is a widespread problem among adolescent girls, it will bring negative consequences on growth, school performance, morbidity and reproductive performance. It also has several negative physical symptoms such as tiredness, headaches and difficulty to concentrate.
Adolescents, especially girls, are particularly vulnerable to iron deficiency. The highest prevalence is between the ages of 12-15 years when requirements are at a peak. In all Member States of the South-East Asia Region, except Thailand, more than 25 % of adolescent girls are reported to be anaemic; in some countries as high as 50 %. WHO,http://www.searo.who.int/entity/child_adolescent/documents/sea_cah_2/en/
While approximately 8 % of women are estimated to be iron deficient in the west, Dr Mike Nelson, a nutritionist at King's College, London University, believes that between 10 - 20 % of younger girls are affected. Although these girls often appear to be in good health, low iron levels profoundly affect many aspects of their day to day lives, including an ability to concentrate, and thus learn, in school. Nelson tells us, "In tests we have carried out we think that the IQ in British girls who get enough iron in their diets and those who are anaemic can mean the difference of a whole grade in school exams".
"Girls who are dieting and those switching to a vegetarian diet are particularly at risk", explains Nelson: "New vegetarians need to be very careful in the first year of conversion because they often cut out meat and don't know how to replace the iron with other foods. Women and girls who diet and go vegetarian at the same time should think about eating iron fortified foods or even taking a modest supplement". (European Food Information Council, http://www.eufic.org/article/en/artid/iron-common-deficiency/)
Another factor is that phytates in müsli, whole grain bread, milk proteins, albumin and soy proteins may complex-bind iron and thus reduce absorption.
Foods containing heme iron (meat, poultry, and fish) enhance iron absorption from foods that contain non-heme iron. Adolescent girls and fertile females in general are at risk for iron deficiency mainly due to a small constant loss of blood through menstruation. Another factor today is a diet with little or no meat, poultry, and fish since heme iron from meat products is central for a normal iron balance.
The problem is compounded when an adolescent girl gets a recommendation for supplement iron and the product brings side-effects, like the regular synthetic supplements regularly do. The effect is a termination of the therapy and the situation for the young female remains the same.