Objective: To evaluate the effect of iron supplementation on haemoglobin (Hb) in children through a systematic review of randomised controlled trials.
Materials and Methods: Electronic databases, personal files, hand search of reviews, bibliographies of books, and abstracts and proceedings of international conferences were reviewed. Randomised controlled trials evaluating change in Hb levels with interventions that included oral or parenteral iron supplementation or iron-fortified formula milk or cereals were analysed.
Results: A total of 55 trials (56 cohorts) provided relevant information. Publication bias was evident (P < 0.001). The pooled estimate (random-effects model) for change in Hb with iron supplementation (weighted mean difference) was 0.74 g/dL (95% CI, 0.61–0.87; P < 0.001; P < 0.001 for heterogeneity). Lower baseline Hb level, oral medicinal iron supplementation, and malarial nonhyperendemic region were significant predictors of greater Hb response and heterogeneity. Projections suggested that, on average, between 37.9% and 62.3% of baseline anaemia (Hb <11 g/dL) was responsive to iron supplementation among children under 6 years of age; the corresponding range for malarial hyperendemic regions was 5.8% to 31.8%.
Conclusions: This systematic review indicates that iron supplementation increases Hb levels in children significantly but modestly. The increase is greater in subjects who are anaemic at the start of the trial and lower in malarial hyperendemic areas and in those consuming iron-fortified food. The projected reductions in prevalence of anaemia with iron supplementation alone highlight the need for additional area-specific interventions, particularly in malaria-prone regions.