Background. Iron deficiency continues to be a common problem among infants throughout the world. Iron-fortified formula is effective in preventing iron deficiency but the benefit of iron-fortified cereal is controversial.
Methods. We compared iron-fortified rice cereal to unfortified rice cereal in infants who were exclusively breast-fed for more than 4 months and to iron-fortified formula in infants who were weaned to formula before 4 months of age. The design was double blind in respect to the presence or absence of fortification iron in the cereal or formula and included 515 infants who were followed on the protocol from 4 to 15 months of age. Rice cereal was fortified with 55 mg of electrolytic iron per 100 g of dry cereal and infant formula with 12 mg of ferrous sulfate per 100 g of dry powder, levels approximating those in use in the United States. Measures of iron status were obtained at 8, 12, and 15 months. Infants with hemoglobin levels of <105 g/L were excluded from the study and treated.
Results. Consumption of cereal reached plateaus at means of about 30 g/d after 6 months of age in the formula-fed groups and 26 g/d after 8 months in the breast-fed groups; these amounts are higher than the 19-g/d mean intake by the 73% of infants who consume such cereal in the United States. Among infants weaned to formula before 4 months, the cumulative percentages of infants excluded for anemia by 15 months were 8%, 24%, and 4%, respectively, in the fortified cereal, unfortified cereal and formula, and fortified formula groups (P < .01 unfortified vs either fortified group; the difference between the two fortified groups was not significant). In infants breast-fed for more than 4 months, the corresponding values were 13% and 27%, respectively, in the fortified and unfortified cereal groups (P < .05). Mean hemoglobin level and other iron status measures were in accord with these findings.
Conclusion. Iron-fortified infant rice cereal can contribute substantially to preventing iron deficiency anemia.