Experiencing anaemia in early childhood more than doubles the risk of developmental disadvantage in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in Far North Queensland (FNQ), James Cook University (JCU) researchers have found.
The findings will be of interest not only to those education and care services operating in FNQ, but to the broader early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, as they seek to ensure children have the best nutritional foundation in the years prior to school.
Dympna Leonard from JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) said researchers used health databases to link anaemia rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children in FNQ with developmental measurements at school age.
“We looked at anaemia between age six months and 23 months and indicators of childhood development among children of remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of Far North Queensland,” said Ms Leonard.
Researchers then assessed development using the Australian Early Development Census domains, finding that nearly half (46 per cent) of children who had suffered childhood anaemia had developmental issues at school-age, compared to just over 23 per cent for did not suffer anaemia.
The latest findings build on Ms Leonard’s earlier work, which found that more than 60 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in remote communities in Far North Queensland were anaemic between the ages of six months and 23 months.
Anaemia in the first thousand days of life is thought to be caused by iron deficiency in the mother or baby due to high iron requirements for rapid growth during pregnancy and early childhood, Ms Leonard noted.
Areas which experience higher instances of childhood anemia – defined as more than 20 per cent of a child population – should be receiving interventional support, the World Health Organisation has said, recommending nutrition promotion and food fortification for babies aged between 6 and 23 months.
Such interventions have proven effective in preventing anaemia and also the developmental disadvantage associated with anaemia in other countries.
The study is significant, Ms Leonard said, as it is the first to demonstrate the association of early childhood anaemia with the developmental vulnerability of school age children in Australia.
To access the study, please contact Ms Leonard via phone on (07) 4232 2134 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org