In Aotearoa New Zealand, the people most at risk of low iron are those who are:
- having periods (menstruating)
- pregnant or breastfeeding
- young children
- vegetarians and vegans.
Having periods (menstruating) and being pregnant
If you have periods, you need more iron because of the blood loss. If you get pregnant, you also need more iron during pregnancy.
Young children are at risk because they are growing quickly. Iron deficiency in preschool children in Aotearoa New Zealand is a cause for concern, with up to 14% of those under 2 years of age having low iron. Low iron levels can have a permanent impact on brain development, making these children less able to learn.
They may also not gain enough weight, have problems with feeding and digestion, get tired easily and be more prone to infection and illness. Children between 6 and 24 months are at greatest risk, especially those from Māori, Pasifika and other non-European families.
Teenagers need extra nutrients to fuel growth spurts, but they are also more likely to have a poor diet.
Iron can be lost through excessive sweating in athletes. Some athletes who need to be a certain weight for their sport have unbalanced diets.
Vegetarians and vegans
Iron in plant-based foods is not as easily absorbed by your body as iron found in meat, so vegetarians and vegans may get too little iron from their diet. Tell your doctor if you don't eat meat, so they can give you some advice about what to eat or refer you to a dietitian. However, a well-planned vegetarian diet can provide enough iron and eating foods containing vitamin C alongside iron-rich foods helps your body to absorb the iron more efficiently.
If you follow a restrictive diet such as a diet where you avoid certain food groups or that can cause you to lose weight rapidly, you can become low in iron.