Ironing Out Deficiencies: Evidence from the United States on the Economic Effects of Iron Deficiency

Greg Niemesh, Vanderbilt University

Over 4 billion people are estimated to suffer from iron deficiency, impairing cognitive development in children and reducing productivity in adults. In 1943, the United States government issued War Food Order No. 1, which required the fortification of bread with dietary iron in an effort to reduce iron deficiency in the working age population during World War II. This almost universal fortification of grain products increased per capita consumption of iron by 16 percent. I use the timing of the federal law and information from the “Study of Consumer Purchases in the United States 1935-1936” to measure the effects of the fortification program on contemporary adult wages and child school attendance. Areas with lower levels of iron intake prior to 1943 experienced greater increases in wages and school attendance after the intervention. Wage effects are concentrated in men, whereas both sexes gained from iron fortification in terms of school attendance.

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Presented in Session 193: Determinants of the Well-Being of Children and Youth in the U.S.