Toe in the water survey suggests a rise in Kiwi iron deficiency symptoms

by | Aug 24, 2022 | News

The results from an online iron quiz titled ‘Could you be low on iron?’ – which checks for common signs and symptoms of iron deficiency – may point to some worrying trends.

The results from the 37,000 global responses to this New Zealand quiz – which are being released to coincide with World Iron Awareness Week – saw over 62% of the respondents state they are struggling to get out of bed in the morning, 42% reporting they feel weak or dizzy all the time and over half saying they are short of breath after walking up a flight of steps.

Regina Wypych, Head of Nutrition at Beef + Lamb New Zealand, says whilet these results are a toe in the water insight to how people are feeling, it can’t be concluded from the survey alone that respondents are categorically suffering from iron deficiency. But if they are an indicative depiction of iron deficiency and its symptoms, it’s a worrying outlook.

“New Zealand statistics on iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia are becoming outdated, and we have limited current knowledge on the state of the nation’s iron health. Until we gain further knowledge on this, it’s really important to keep raising awareness through initiatives like World Iron Awareness Week,” says Wypych.

“What we do know from the number of people taking part, is that it suggests people are interested in the impact of diet on our health and if anyone is concerned about their health, they should consider visiting a health professional.”

Iron deficiency is a big deal. One billion people globally are estimated by the World Health Organisation to be suffering from iron deficiency anaemia. Although iron deficiency anaemia occurs at all ages and involves both genders, adolescent girls are more prone to it. The highest prevalence of global iron deficiency anaemia is between the ages of 12 and 15 years when requirements are at peak. In some countries, up to 50% of adolescent girls have been reported to be anaemic.

Here in Aotearoa, the statistics don’t look much healthier. Based on the most recent national nutrition survey from 2009, one in fourteen women are iron deficient and, worryingly, a third of teenage girls do not achieve their daily iron requirements, with more research needed to understand the current situation.

What has this meant for our already under pressure district health boards? Stuff has reported that the cost of hospitalisations – primarily due to iron deficiency anaemia crept up from an annual $3.2 million to over $6.7m in the ten years between 2008-2018.

World Iron Awareness Week

In New Zealand, the many supporting organisations of this year’s World Iron Awareness Week, August 22 – 28, will again highlight those most at risk of iron deficiency, the implications of being short on iron, dietary tips to optimise iron absorption along with a range of tasty iron-rich recipes.

This year’s campaign asks, ‘Is low iron holding you back?’ When your energy levels are not what they should be and poor sleeping, late night Netflix, recovery from Covid or flu and life stresses can be dismissed, it could possibly be low iron causing tiredness, fatigue and headaches. Taking the quiz allows you to find out if you have any other signs and symptoms of low iron.

Here in Aotearoa, the statistics don’t look much better. Based on the most recent national nutrition survey from 2009, one in fourteen women are iron deficient and, worryingly, a third of teenage girls do not achieve their daily iron requirements, with more research needed to understand the current situation.

Where to get more iron?

You can help reduce your risk of iron deficiency by choosing iron-rich foods. The Auckland Iron Clinic recommends iron, rich foods such as:

  • Red meat, pork and poultry
  • Seafood
  • Beans
  • Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
  • Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots
  • Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas
  • Peas

The clinic recommends that is if you choose to not eat meat, you may need to eat more of iron-rich, plant-based foods to absorb the same amount of iron as does someone who eats meat, and combine this with  foods containing vitamin C to enhance your body’s iron absorption.

According to the cereal makers Sanitarium, most iron in a New Zealand diet does not come from meat, but from bread, breakfast cereals, vegetables as well as grains and pasta. The New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey shows that about 30% of our iron comes from core cereal foods compared to that of about 20% from meat sources, they say.

For more information or to take the quiz, visit ironweek.co.nz

 

Images /  Ting Tian on Unsplash and The Auckland Iron Clinic

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