Kids achieve more if moms ‘pump’ iron

JOHNS HOPKINS (US) — In developing countries where iron deficiency is a problem, schoolchildren whose mothers took iron and folic acid supplements during pregnancy did better than their peers on intellectual and fine motor skills tests.

Researchers working in Nepal followed 676 children aged 7 to 9 from June 2007 to April 2009.

All the children had been born to women in a community-based double-blind, randomized controlled trial of prenatal micronutrient supplementation between 1999 and 2001.

The study found evidence that giving the pregnant women iron and folic acid supplements was positively associated with children’s general intellectual ability, some aspects of executive function and fine motor control compared to offspring of mothers in the control group.

“Iron is essential for the development of the central nervous system,” said Parul Christian, associate professor of international health at Johns Hopkins University.

“Early iron deficiency can alter neuroanatomy, biochemistry, and metabolism, leading to changes in neurophysiologic processes that support cognitive and sensorimotor development.”

The results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers assessed intellectual functioning using the Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test and motor function with the Movement Assessment Battery for Children.

“This innovative study shows that in very low-income settings, children’s cognitive performance is influenced by their mother’s iron-folic acid status during pregnancy, along with school attendance, illustrating the importance of both nutritional and environmental interventions,” says Maureen Black, adjunct professor of international health at Johns Hopkins and professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland.

“Few studies have examined whether micronutrient supplementation during gestation, a critical period of central nervous system development, affects children’s later functioning,” adds Christian.

“Considering the significant role of iron and folic acid in the development of both intellectual and motor skills, antenatal use per international guidelines should be expanded in many low- and middle-income settings where program coverage continues to be poor.”

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

More news from Johns Hopkins University: