Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Determination of iron status in pregnancy and in young children is essential for both clinical and public health practice. Clinical diagnosis of iron deficiency (ID) through sampling of bone marrow to identify the absence of body iron stores is impractical in most cases. Serum ferritin (SF) concentrations are the most commonly deployed indicator for determining ID, and low SF concentrations reflect a state of iron depletion. However, there is considerable variation in SF cutoffs recommended by different expert groups to diagnose ID. Moreover, the cutoffs used in different clinical laboratories are heterogeneous. There are few studies of diagnostic test accuracy to establish the sensitivity and specificity of SF compared with key gold standards (such as absent bone marrow iron stores, increased intestinal iron absorption, and hemoglobin response to SF) among noninflamed, outpatient populations. The limited data available suggest the commonly recommended SF cutoff of <15 μg/L is a specific but not sensitive cutoff, although evidence is limited. Data from women during pregnancy or from young children are especially uncommon. Most data are from studies conducted >30 y ago, do not reflect ethnic or geographic diversity, and were performed in an era for which laboratory methods no longer reflect present practice. Future studies to define the appropriate SF cutoffs are urgently needed and would also provide an opportunity to compare this indicator with other established and emerging iron indexes. In addition, future work would benefit from a focus on elucidating cutoffs and indexes relevant to iron adequacy.

Original publication




Journal article


Am J Clin Nutr

Publication Date





1634S - 1639S


cutoffs, diagnostic test, ferritin, hepcidin, iron deficiency, iron deficiency anemia, iron status, Anemia, Iron-Deficiency, Child, Preschool, Female, Ferritins, Hemoglobins, Humans, Iron, Nutritional Status, Pregnancy, Receptors, Transferrin, Sensitivity and Specificity