UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Iron Status, Anemia, and Iron Interventions and Their Associations with Cognitive and Academic Performance in Adolescents: A Systematic Review Samson, Kaitlyn; Fischer, Jordie A. J.; Roche, Marion L.


In adolescents, iron-deficiency anemia is the leading cause of disability-adjusted life years lost. The World Health Organization recommends delivering iron supplementation through school-based platforms, requiring partnerships with the education sector. This anemia-reduction intervention is valued for the perceived benefits of improved learning and school performance. This article aims to systematically review the available evidence on the relationship between iron status and anemia and impacts of iron interventions on cognitive and academic performance in adolescents. Fifty studies were included: n = 26 cross-sectional and n = 24 iron-containing interventions. Our review suggests that iron status and anemia may be associated with academic performance in some contexts and that iron supplementation during adolescence may improve school performance, attention, and concentration. However, nearly all supplementation trials were judged to have moderate or high risk of bias. We did not find evidence suggesting that iron status and anemia influenced or were associated with attention, intelligence, nor memory in adolescents. Further, iron supplementation did not improve memory and recall or intelligence. Overall, more high-quality research is needed to guide programmers and policy makers to understand the relationships between anemia and educational performance and the potential impacts of iron interventions, which effectively reduce anemia, on adolescents’ learning and school performance.

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