The impact of iron deficiency is considerable when enhanced physical fitness is required. Female military recruits represent a unique population faced with intense physical and cognitive demands.

Purpose: To examine the prevalence of iron deficiency and the impact of dietary habits among female recruits in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Methods: 348 recruits completed the study (188 female combatants, 58 male combatants, 92 non-combat females). Dietary intake was assessed using a Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ). Blood samples were collected for CBC, iron indices and vitamin B12. The common definitions for anemia and iron store deficiency were used as follows: Hemoglobin (Hgb) < 12gr/dl for females and <14gr/dl for males; Serum ferritin < 12 mg/dl.

Results: The prevalence of iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia was 29.8% and 12.8%, respectively, among female combatants. Similar data were found among non-combat females (27.2% and 17.4% respectively) as compared to 5.2% and 0%, among males. No significant difference in iron or total calorie intake was detected between subjects with iron deficiency (with or without anemia) when compared to subjects with normal iron status in the same study group. Plant sources constituted 85% of dietary iron source for females, in comparison to 73% for males.

Conclusions: A high prevalence of iron deficiency was found among female recruits. Coupled with the iron loss during menstruation, inadequate iron intake may have a permissive role for iron deficiency in female recruits, and is an important issue facing females in the military.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.