British Journal of Nutrition

Iron deficiency and physical performance

Iron-deficiency anaemia and physical performance in adolescent girls from different ethnic backgrounds

M. Nelsona1, F. Bakalioua1 and A. Trivedia1

a1 Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, King's College London, Campden Hill Road, London W8 7AH


One hundred and fourteen 11–14-year-old schoolgirls from Wembley, Middlesex, were assessed for Fe status (haemoglobin (Hb), packed cell volume and mean corpuscular Hb concentration, height, weight eating habits, and ethnic origin, and undertook a step test to assess physical performance. Overall, 20% of girls had Hb less than 120 g/l, ranging from 11 % in White girls to 22–25% in girls of Asian origin. Prevalence of low Hb was 20% in vegetarians, higher in White vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians (23 v. 4%), but lower in the Indian vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians (17 v. 32%). Low Hb was present in 25 % of girls who had tried to lose weight in the previous year, and was more common in girls from manual social class backgrounds than non-manual (24 v. 10%). At the start of the step test the twenty-three girls with low Hb had heart rates similar to those with normal Hb, but hear rates in the low Hb group were significantly elevated immediately after the step test, and still significantly elevated 1 min later. The present results confirm the findings of a previous study in White girls, and suggest that physical performance may be compromised at mild levels of anaemia.

(Received April 02 1993)

(Accepted January 14 1994)