Supplementing iron and folic acid during pregnancy produces children who are smarter, have better fine motor skills, and are more organized, a study in rural Nepal of 676 school-age children shows.
Parul Christian, of Johns Hopkins University, is an expert on worldwide health patterns. She and her team did the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Pre-natal iron deficiency can hamper mental development, and fine motor skills. The iron is needed for nerve building, biochemistry, and metabolism. These all affected later academic abilities.
“Iron is essential for the development of the central nervous system,” said Christian. “We had the opportunity to follow the offspring of women who had participated in a randomized trial of iron and folic acid and other micronutrients to assess neurocognitive function and outcomes,” she added.
The World Health Organization reports that iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional disorder in the developing world, affecting two billion people. The WHO says that 50% of pregnant women are anemic, 25% of infants, and that 40% of the children are.
Christian said that inexpensive nutritional support as part of pre-natal support would benefit millions of poor.
“These results speak to a large swath of people residing in that part of the world. Iron and folic acid deficiency are very common,” she said.
“What we showed is prenatal iron and folic acid supplementation had a significant impact on the offspring’s intellectual level and motor ability and ability during school age, which was a very exciting finding,” Christian said.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the study.