Recent Study, Obese Toddlers Lack Proper Iron Levels

Data collected in the NHANES study from 1999 to 2002 found that 20 percent of obese toddlers have iron deficiency, compared to 7 percent of normal-weight toddlers.  This actually makes a lot of sense. When the body is not receiving proper nutrition it responds by signaling the need for more food. Obese children are most likely lacking a  great deal more than just iron. In my opinion, processed food and its additives are largely to blame for the current obesity epidemic. Not only are mass produced foods nutrient poor, they often contain harmful substances. In one of Mercola’s recent newsletters he cited a recent study which found that foods containing artificial sweeteners may increase the occurrence of obesity in children. These diet foods may prevent children from developing the ability of the body to use taste to regulate caloric intake.

MSG, a cheap flavor enhancing ingredient, is added to many foods, often in hidden forms like hydrolyzed vegetable protein and autolyzed yeast extract. See the following sources for a list of ingredients that contain MSG: Hidden Names for MSG or Hidden Sources of MSG in Food .  MSG, a neurotoxin, is also implicated in the obesity epidemic. MSG has been shown to cause animals to overeat to the point of obesity. This effect has been well documented since the 1960’s.  

If your child’s diet has been less than ideal, make changes gently. Start by replacing one unhealthy food wth one that is healthy. Find a good quality childs multivitamin that is complete and balanced, including all 8 vitamins of the b complex and iron in plant form such as ferrous fumarate. Inorganic iron, such as ferrous sulfate, is difficult for the body to utilize and may cause constipation. A child’s multivitamin should contain no sugar, artificial sweeteners, colors, or flavors. See this link for my favorite choices of children’s vitamins .   Some suggestions for the first dietary changes include the following:

Iron deficiency in toddlers can occur when they are weaned from the breast or iron fortified formula to regular milk. If the milk displaces iron rich foods, anemia will follow. Juice can also displace healthy foods from the diet. Limit the milk and juice, start offering more water, and be sure to offer iron rich foods each day. Remember that vitamin C increases the absorption of iron, so save the orange juice to be served in small quantitiy with the iron rich foods. If toddlers have a poor appetite at meals, it may be helpful to limit milk intake to 24 ounces per day, and to avoid offering milk before or during the meal. Some authorities say that 16 ounces of milk is enough for a toddler. Remember that cheese and yogurt can replace some of the milk. It is important to make sure that a child’s protein intake is not coming solely from milk and milk products, which tend to be low in iron. Eggs, fish, meat, and green leafy vegetables are all good sources of iron.

Processed foods use cheap ingredients to enhance flavor, such as the artificial sweeteners and MSG described above. Parents can protect their children’s health by reading labels carefully when they do choose foods that do come in bags, boxes, etc. However, children need as much fresh, natural foods as possible. Buy organic local food, if you can. Fresh food and organic foods are more rich in the nutrients your children need. If you can find a local source of grass fed beef, do. Look for a local chapter of the Weston A. Price foundation here to help you find local foods. Split up a side of beef with a group of families to save money. Did you know that grass fed beef is as rich in Omega 3’s as is wild salmon? Food as nature intended always offers more nutrition. It is shocking what mass production of foods is depriving us and our children of.

In our household we make our own waffles, muffins, chicken nuggets, and other child favorites to help avoid using processed foods. I batch and freeze so that we have healthy foods available to prepare quickly. For me, having a quick and nutritious breakfast ready to go is important. I’m not much of a morning person. We avoid fast food, which is commonly flavored with MSG and other additives. We use whole grain sprouted bread and certified raw milk. Empty calories such as cookies/candy, cold cereals, chips, etc are either not in the home, or offered on a limited basis. (Like at Grandma’s house.) And remember kids may need to try a new food 10 times before they will accept it. Every house has a picky eater, even ours. Be patient but persistent with your picky eaters, and they eventually will expand their horizons. 



  1. karen said,

    March 28, 2008 at 9:56 am

    I would like some help. my friend has a 28month old. she still takes bottles all day. she has around 8 8oz bottles of milk a day. she has a very poor appetite and barely eats all day.. she is under weight, and has a very distended belly.. could this be a really bad thing? i am concerned about her parenting.
    please offer me some knowledge on having too much milk, and can someone tell me what i should do.
    thanks, waiting for an answer

  2. jstevens said,

    March 28, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    I would recommend that your friend check with her pediatrician. I can’t give medical advice. You could print my blog article and show it to your friend if you think that would help. A couple comments… The distended belly, it is hard to gauge as a sign because a rounded belly is often a normal finding in a toddler. As far as being underweight, you would need a height and weight and previous measurements from the child’s growth chart to see if there has been a change over time. Usually to evaluate a child’s weight you look at the curve on the growth chart to see if the child is staying on an established curve. They aren’t all going to be 90th percentile, some will be 50th, some 25th, etc. You also need to look at how the child is doing with achieving developmental milestones.

    The milk intake is a concern, especially if it is the factory farmed, grain fed, pasteurized version of milk sold in grocery stores. If it were grass fed, clean, raw jersey cow or goats milk I would be a little less concerned. See for more information.

    One approach for reducing milk intake is to gradually water down some of the bottles until the child is just drinking water, or refuses them because they are too watery. If she can reduce the milk intake the child’s appetite for foods should improve. It is important to keep mealtimes pleasant and non-threatening. No attempting to force the child to eat. Keep offering a variety of healthy foods and let the child eat what appeals to her. A good quality whole food based multivitamin with iron such as one of these would be advisable.

    But the mother definitely needs to discuss this with her pediatrician and find out how the little one is doing medically.


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