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What Is Iron?

Iron is a mineral found in plants and animals and all living things. It's an important component of hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body. Iron gives hemoglobin the strength to "carry" (bind to) oxygen in the blood, so oxygen gets to where it needs to go.

Without enough iron, the body can't make hemoglobin and makes fewer red blood cells. This means tissues and organs won't get the oxygen they need.

People can get iron by eating foods like meat and dark green leafy vegetables. Iron is also added to some foods, such as infant formula and cereals.

How Much Iron Do Kids Need?

Depending on their age, kids need different amounts of iron:

What's Iron Deficiency?

Iron deficiency is when a person's body doesn't have enough iron. It can be a problem for some kids, particularly toddlers and teens (especially girls who have very heavy periods). In fact, many teenage girls are at risk for iron deficiency — even if they have normal periods — if their diets don't contain enough iron to offset the loss of blood during menstruation.

After 12 months of age, toddlers are at risk for iron deficiency because they no longer drink iron-fortified formula — and, they may not be eating enough iron-containing foods to make up the difference.

Iron deficiency can affect growth and may lead to learning and behavioral problems. If iron deficiency isn't corrected, it can lead to iron-deficiency anemia (a decrease in the number of red blood cells in the body).

How Can I Help My Child Get Enough Iron?

Kids and teens should know that iron is an important part of a healthy diet. Foods rich in iron include:

(Note: Iron from animal sources is more easily absorbed by the body than iron from plant sources.)

To help make sure kids get enough iron:

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2016

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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