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Risk of suboptimal iron and zinc nutriture among adolescent girls in Australia and New Zealand: causes, consequences, and solutions


 Professor Rosalind S Gibson, Department of Human Nutrition, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand. Tel: + 64 3479 7955; Fax: + 64 3479 7958 Email:


Surveys in Australia, New Zealand and other industrialised countries report that many adolescent girls have dietary intakes of iron and zinc that fail to meet their high physiological requirements for growing body tissues, expanding red cell mass, and onset of menarche. Such dietary inadequacies can be attributed to poor food selection patterns, and low energy intakes. Additional exacerbating non-dietary factors may include high menstrual losses, strenuous exercise, pregnancy, low socioeconomic status and ethnicity. These findings are cause for concern because iron and zinc play essential roles in numerous metabolic functions and are required for optimal growth, immune and cognitive function, work capacity, sexual maturation, and bone mineralization. Moreover, if adolescents enter pregnancy with a compromised iron and zinc status, and continue to receive intakes of iron and zinc that do not meet their increased needs, their poor iron and zinc status could adversely affect the pregnancy outcome. Clearly, intervention strategies may be needed to improve the iron and zinc status of high risk adolescent subgroups in Australia and New Zealand. The recommended treatment for iron deficiency anaemia and moderate zinc deficiency is supplementation. Although dietary intervention is often recommended for treating non-anaemic iron deficiency and mild zinc deficiency, it is probably more effective and appropriate for prevention than for the treatment of suboptimal iron and zinc status. Many of the strategies for enhancing the content and bioavailability of dietary iron are also appropriate for zinc.