One in three Cree babies surveyed in the coastal Cree communities are anemic, according to a new study.

People with anemia often feel tired, and for this reason anemia is also called weak blood. A lack of iron in the diet is a common cause of anemia.

The anemia is mild for most of the Cree babies, and unlikely to affect health. But for as many as 11 babies out of 100, the anemia (iron deficiency) is severe enough to be considered a health problem. The results will be published in full in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in February.

A 1997 U.S. study found 5 percent of American toddlers have anemia, and 3 percent are severely iron-deficient.

Low levels of hemoglobin in the blood cause anemia. Hemoglobin contains iron, and it is iron that gives blood its red colour. Hemoglobin carries oxygen that we breathe from the lungs to the rest of the body.

The Cree babies with severe anemia were likely not getting enough iron in their diet. Iron is necessary for proper growth, and studies have shown that some babies with anemia may not do as well at school when they grow older. For these reasons, it is important to try to give very anemic babies iron drops and children iron syrup, even if they do not like the taste of the medicine.

Giving babies solid foods rich in iron beginning at four to six months of age can prevent most anemia. One food that’s very good for preventing iron deficiency is infant cereal that has iron added. Broth is also good for babies. Iron-enriched baby cereals such as barley and oats are usually offered next, followed by mixed cereals.

Babies can be introduced to vegetables and fruits once they are eating cereals. Then babies can start to eat iron-rich foods such as game, fish and red meat that is well-cooked and soft. Jars of baby food that contain pure meat are good, but the mixed meals do not contain much meat.

If a mother chooses not to breast-feed, it is important that she gives her baby iron-fortified formula until the baby is nine to 12 months old. Cow’s milk should not be given to the infant for at least the first nine months because it does not contain much iron, and is known to cause anemia.

The research into anemia in Cree babies is continuing and will include babies in all nine communities. For this reason, caregivers of babies attending nine-month “well-baby clinics” have been asked to complete a questionnaire about their baby since 1998.

The anemia study was based on babies at these clinics. Most of the babies were from the coastal communities, but there was a small number from Nemaska.

The Community Health Representatives, nutritionists, nurses and doctors in each community are helping with the research. Most CHRs have now received special training about anemia, and have information for parents of young babies.

The anemia study was done in collaboration with the Cree Health Board by Noreen Willows and Dr. Katherine Gray-Donald, who are both researchers at McGill University, and Johanne Morel, a pediatrician with the health board.