OBJECTIVES:

This study examined effects of iron deficiency anemia (IDA) on specific domains of infant cognitive function and the role of IDA-related socioemotional deficits in mediating and/or moderating these effects.

METHODS:

Infants were recruited during routine 9-month visits to an inner-city clinic. IDA was defined as hemoglobin level <110 g/L with ≥2 abnormal iron deficiency indicators (mean corpuscular volume, red cell distribution width, zinc protoporphyrin, transferrin saturation, and ferritin). At 9 and 12 months, the Fagan Test of Infant Intelligence (FTII); A-not-B task; Emotionality, Activity, and Sociability Temperament Survey; and Behavior Rating Scale were administered. Analyses were adjusted for potential confounders, including age and sociodemographic variables.

RESULTS:

Twenty-eight infants met criteria for IDA, 28 had nonanemic iron deficiency (NA ID) and 21 had iron sufficiency (IS). There was a linear effect for object permanence at 9 months: infants with IDA were least likely to exhibit object permanence, IS most likely, and NA ID intermediate. Infants with IDA and those with hemoglobin level ≤105 g/L showed poorer recognition memory on the FTII than infants without IDA. The Behavior Rating Scale orientation/engagement measure partially mediated these effects. Stronger effects of IDA on these outcomes were seen in infants who scored more poorly on the socioemotional measures.

CONCLUSIONS:

These data indicate poorer object permanence and short-term memory encoding and/or retrieval in infants with IDA at 9 months. These cognitive effects were attributable, in part, to IDA-related deficits in socioemotional function. Children with poor socioemotional performance seem to be more vulnerable to the effects of IDA on cognitive function.

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