Serum zinc is a major predictor of anemia and mediates the effect of selenium on hemoglobin in school-aged children in a nationally representative survey in New Zealand

Lisa A. Houghton, Winsome R. Parnell, Christine D. Thomson, Tim Green, Rosalind S. Gibson

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Background: Zinc, selenium, and vitamin D status of New Zealand (NZ) school-aged children was examined in a national survey in 2002. To our knowledge, however, the role of these micronutrients as predictors of hemoglobin has not been explored despite plausible mechanisms for such relations. Objective:Weexamined the relations of iron, zinc, selenium, and vitamin D status with hemoglobin and anemia in children of New Zealand European and other (NZEO) ethnicity enrolled in the 2002 Children's Nutrition Survey and explored whether zinc mediated the relation between selenium and hemoglobin. Methods: Multivariate regression was performed to examine the relations of serum micronutrient biomarkers, acute inflammation, socioeconomic status, and body mass index (BMI) with hemoglobin and anemia of NZEO children aged 5-15 y (n = 503). A mediation analysis also investigated direct and indirect (through zinc) relations between selenium and hemoglobin. Results: In total, 4.6% of the children were anemic, 3.2% had depleted iron stores, and none had iron deficiency anemia. The prevalence of low serum zinc (<8.7-10.1 mmol/L depending on age and sex), selenium (<0.82 mmol/L), and 25-hydroxyvitamin D (<50 nmol/L) was 14.1%, 22.9%, and 48.5%, respectively. Major predictors of hemoglobin were serum zinc, age, and BMI-for-age z score (P < 0.001); log ferritin and being female were also statistically significant (P < 0.05). Selenium had an indirect effect that was mediated by zinc, with a significant effect of selenium on zinc (P = 0.002) and zinc on hemoglobin (P < 0.001). Zinc was the only variable associated with anemia risk (OR: 5.49; 95% CI: 1.95, 15.46). Conclusions: Low serum zinc was an independent risk factor for anemia in NZEO school-aged children and mediated the effect of low selenium on hemoglobin. These findings emphasize the importance of considering multiple micronutrient deficiencies in addition to iron when interpreting anemia and of appreciating the mechanistic interactions that underlie these associations.

Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • Anemia
  • Hemoglobin
  • Risk factors
  • School-aged children
  • Selenium
  • Vitamin D
  • Zinc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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