Early childhood anaemia more than doubles the risk of developmental disadvantage among school-age Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in remote Far North Queensland.
Dympna Leonard from James Cook University’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 Far North Queensland 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.
Development was assessed using the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) that encompasses different domains of early childhood development at school-age. The AEDC assessments are a good indication of later NAPLAN results.
“We found that just over 46 per cent of children who had suffered childhood anaemia had developmental issues at school-age compared to just over 23 per cent for those who had not,” said Ms Leonard.
An earlier report by Ms Leonard found 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.
Ms Leonard said 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.
She said in areas where the prevalence of early childhood anaemia exceeds 20% – such as Far North Queensland and elsewhere in northern Australia – the World Health Organization recommends interventions combining food fortification for babies aged 6 – 23 months and nutrition promotion.
These interventions are effective in preventing anaemia and also the developmental disadvantage associated with anaemia
Ms Leonard said the study is the first to demonstrate the association of early childhood anaemia with the developmental vulnerability of school age children in Australia.