Citation: Cook RL, Donges CE, Parker HM, O'Dwyer NJ, Cheng HL, Steinbeck KS, Cox EP, Franklin JL, Garg ML, Rooney KB, O'Connor HT. Iron deficiency anemia, not iron deficiency is associated with reduced attention in healthy young women. Nutrients 2017;9:1216. doi: 10.3390/nu9111216



Women of reproductive age are at increased risk for iron deficiency (ID) and iron deficiency anemia (IDA), with both implicated in decreased cognitive function (CF). Obesity may complicate this association via inflammatory-mediated ferritin elevation. This cross-sectional study examined the association between hematological iron status (iron replete (IR), ID or IDA) and CF in healthy, young (18–35 years) women of normal-weight (NW: BMI 18.5–24.9 kg/m2) or obese-weight (OB: BMI >30 kg/m2). Participants completed a validated, computer-based cognition assessment evaluating impulsivity, attention, information processing, memory and executive function; CF reported as z-scores (mean ± SD). Iron status and CF were compared between groups via ANOVA, with adjustment for potential confounders (BMI, physical activity, C-reactive protein) via ANCOVA. A total of 157 NW and 142 OB women (25.8 ± 5.1 years) participated. Prevalence of ID and IDA were 14% and 6% respectively, with no significant difference between NW and OB groups. Women with IDA scored significantly lower on attention (although within normal range; ±1 z-score), compared to ID (IDA: −0.75 ± 1.89; ID: 0.53 ± 1.37; p = 0.004) but not IR (0.03 ± 1.33, p = 0.21) groups; there were no significant differences between ID and IR groups (p = 0.34). Adjustment for confounders did not significantly alter these results. In conclusion, women with IDA showed significantly reduced attention compared to women with ID.

About The Authors


Helen is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Exercise Scientist by training, and currently holds ...


Kate Steinbeck is an endocrinologist and adolescent physician, and Professor and Medical Foundation ...