GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan doctors are reminding parents to monitor their kids’ cow’s milk intake after a child was hospitalized for severe anemia caused by an iron deficiency.

Dr. Beth Kurt, division chief of pediatric hematology and oncology at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, said drinking too much cow’s milk is the primary cause for iron deficiency diseases in infants, toddlers and teenage girls.

“In the young age group among toddlers, what we find is that kids are really drinkaholics,” she said. “And at the point where they’re switching from breast milk or formula to cow’s milk, we find that they take in an excessive amount of cow’s milk, which as it turns out is a really terrible source of iron.”

Kurt said DeVos Children’s typically admits a couple of kids each month who have over-consumed cow’s milk and deprived themselves of an iron-rich diet. She explained cow’s milk also possesses proteins that are thought to be irritating to the digestive tract, which ultimately causes depletion of iron.

“Cow’s milk is a little bit irritating to the intestines, so we end up losing a little bit of iron in the stool, so we’re just not getting a good amount of iron in the diet when the primary food that a child is taking in is cow’s milk,” she said. “It’s on a very small level, but if you can imagine just not eating enough iron as it is and then you’re losing microscopic amounts in the intestines, that’s going to be a problem over the long haul.”

A patient suffered a stroke earlier this month due to severe iron-deficient anemia, was admitted to the hospital and will live with lasting neurological consequences.

“In industrialized countries, it’s about 20% of children that are about iron deficient. In the U.S., (it’s) 1 in 10 children under the age of 11 who are iron deficient,” she said.

A 2021 Women, Infants & Children survey from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services found 13% of kids under the age of 5 were iron deficient.

Kurt said oat, soy and almond milk are nutritional alternatives to cow’s milk but she said water is always the best option. Families should limit their child’s intake of cow’s milk to no more than 16 ounces daily, she said — that’s about two sippy cups’ worth.