Who is at Risk of Iron-Deficiency Anemia?

Infants and Young Children

Infants and young children need a lot of iron to grow and develop. The iron that full-term infants have stored in their bodies is used up in the first 4 to 6 months of life.

Premature and low-birth-weight babies (weighing less than 5.5 pounds) are at even greater risk for iron-deficiency anemia. These babies don't have as much iron stored in their bodies as larger, full-term infants.

Iron-fortified baby food or iron supplements, when used properly, can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia in infants and young children. Talk with your child's doctor about your child's diet.

Young children who drink a lot of cow's milk may be at risk for iron-deficiency anemia. Milk is low in iron, and too much milk may take the place of iron-rich foods in the diet. Too much milk also may prevent children's bodies from absorbing iron from other foods.

Children who have lead in their blood also may be at risk for iron-deficiency anemia. Lead can interfere with the body's ability to make hemoglobin. Lead may get into the body from breathing in lead dust, eating lead in paint or soil, or drinking water that contains lead.


Teens are at risk for iron-deficiency anemia if they're underweight or have chronic (ongoing) illnesses. Teenage girls who have heavy periods also are at increased risk for the condition.


Women of childbearing age are at higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia because of blood loss during their monthly periods. About 1 in 5 women of childbearing age has iron-deficiency anemia.

Pregnant women also are at higher risk for the condition because they need twice as much iron as usual. The extra iron is needed for increased blood volume and for the fetus' growth.

About half of all pregnant women develop iron-deficiency anemia. The condition can increase a pregnant woman's risk for a premature or low-birth-weight baby.

Adults Who Have Internal Bleeding

Adults who have internal bleeding, such as intestinal bleeding, can develop iron-deficiency anemia due to blood loss. Certain conditions, such as colon cancer and bleeding ulcers, can cause blood loss. Some medicines, such as aspirin, also can cause internal bleeding.

Other At-Risk Groups

People who get kidney dialysis treatment may develop iron-deficiency anemia. This is because blood is lost during dialysis. Also, the kidneys are no longer able to make enough of a hormone that the body needs to produce red blood cells.

People who have gastric bypass surgery also may develop iron-deficiency anemia. This type of surgery can prevent the body from absorbing enough iron.

Certain eating patterns or habits may put you at higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia. This can happen if you:

  • Follow a diet that excludes meat and fish, which are the best sources of iron. However, vegetarian diets can provide enough iron if you eat the right foods. For example, good nonmeat sources of iron include iron-fortified breads and cereals, beans, tofu, dried fruits, and spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables.
  • Eat poorly because of money, social, health, or other problems.
  • Follow a very low-fat diet over a long time. Some higher fat foods, like meat, are the best sources of iron.
  • Follow a high-fiber diet. Large amounts of fiber can slow the absorption of iron.


Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health.