Dietary fiber and growth, iron status and bowel function in children 0–5 years old: a systematic review

  • Jutta Dierkes Centre for Nutrition, Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway; Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway
  • Bright I. Nwaru Krefting Research Centre, Institute of Medicine, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Alfons Ramel Faculty of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Erik Kristoffer Arnesen Department of Nutrition, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  • Birna Thorisdottir Faculty of Sociology, Anthropology and Folkloristics & Health Science Institute, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Christel Lamberg-Allardt Department of Food and Nutrition, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  • Ulrike Spielau
  • Fredrik Söderlund Unit of Cardiovascular and Nutritional Epidemiology, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  • Linnea Bärebring Department of Internal Medicine and Clinical Nutrition, Institute of Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Agneta Åkesson Unit of Cardiovascular and Nutritional Epidemiology, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
Keywords: Dietary fiber and growth, systematic review, Nordic Nutrition Recommendations, iron status, children


Background: While dietary fiber intake is low in many children, the current trend to plant-based diets is associated with higher fiber intake in children raised on these diets. As older reports indicate that diets providing high fiber intake in children 0–5 years may affect growth, iron status and bowel function, we summarized the available evidence in this systematic review.

Objective: To identify, critically appraise, and synthesize evidence on the effect of high fiber intake on growth, iron and bowel function in children 0–5 years, with relevance to the Nordic and Baltic countries.

Methods: Following a pre-registered protocol, we searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Central of Controlled Trials, and Scopus for clinical trials and prospective cohort studies published until November 2021. Two reviewers independently screened retrieved literature, extracted relevant data, and performed risk of bias assessment. Outcomes were growth, iron metabolism and bowel function in children 0–5 years. We narratively described findings from studies that met inclusion criteria.

Results: From 5,644 identified records, five articles met the inclusion criteria. Two RCTs had an overall moderate risk of bias, while the three observational studies had serious risk. Overall, we found no robust association between high intake of dietary fiber and growth. In the RCTs, higher intake of fiber had a positive effect on bowel movements and constipation. No studies on fiber intake and iron status were identified.

The certainty of the overall evidence was inconclusive for growth and bowel function, while no assessment was made for iron status.

Conclusion: We found no clear association between high intake of dietary fiber and growth or bowel function in young children living in affluent countries, albeit with only a limited number of studies. There is a lack of studies investigating health effects of high fiber intake in small children.


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How to Cite
Dierkes J., Nwaru B. I., Ramel A., Arnesen E. K., Thorisdottir B., Lamberg-Allardt C., Spielau U., Söderlund F., Bärebring L., & Åkesson A. (2023). Dietary fiber and growth, iron status and bowel function in children 0–5 years old: a systematic review. Food & Nutrition Research, 67.
Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2022

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