Development of Iron Status Measures during Youth: Associations with Sex, Neighborhood Socioeconomic Status, Cognitive Performance, and Brain Structure

Bart Larsen, Erica B. Baller, Alexander A. Boucher, Monica E. Calkins, Nina Laney, Tyler M. Moore, David R. Roalf, Kosha Ruparel, Ruben C. Gur, Raquel E. Gur, Michael K. Georgieff, Theodore D. Satterthwaite

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Iron is essential to brain function, and iron deficiency during youth may adversely impact neurodevelopment. Understanding the developmental time course of iron status and its association with neurocognitive functioning is important for identifying windows for intervention. Objectives: This study aimed to characterize developmental change in iron status and understand its association with cognitive performance and brain structure during adolescence using data from a large pediatric health network. Methods: This study included a cross-sectional sample of 4899 participants (2178 males; aged 8–22 y at the time of participation, M [SD] = 14.24 [3.7]) who were recruited from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia network. Prospectively collected research data were enriched with electronic medical record data that included hematological measures related to iron status, including serum hemoglobin, ferritin, and transferrin (33,015 total samples). At the time of participation, cognitive performance was assessed using the Penn Computerized Neurocognitive Battery, and brain white matter integrity was assessed using diffusion-weighted MRI in a subset of individuals. Results: Developmental trajectories were characterized for all metrics and revealed that sex differences emerged after menarche such that females had reduced iron status relative to males [all R2partial > 0.008; all false discovery rates (FDRs) < 0.05]. Higher socioeconomic status was associated with higher hemoglobin concentrations throughout development (R2partial = 0.005; FDR < 0.001), and the association was greatest during adolescence. Higher hemoglobin concentrations were associated with better cognitive performance during adolescence (R2partial = 0.02; FDR < 0.001) and mediated the association between sex and cognition (mediation effect = −0.107; 95% CI: −0.191, −0.02). Higher hemoglobin concentration was also associated with greater brain white matter integrity in the neuroimaging subsample (R2partial = 0.06, FDR = 0.028). Conclusions: Iron status evolves during youth and is lowest in females and individuals of low socioeconomic status during adolescence. Diminished iron status during adolescence has consequences for neurocognition, suggesting that this critical period of neurodevelopment may be an important window for intervention that has the potential to reduce health disparities in at-risk populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-131
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Society for Nutrition


  • adolescence
  • cognition
  • executive function
  • ferritin
  • hemoglobin
  • iron
  • menarche
  • puberty
  • transferrin
  • white matter

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


Dive into the research topics of 'Development of Iron Status Measures during Youth: Associations with Sex, Neighborhood Socioeconomic Status, Cognitive Performance, and Brain Structure'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this