Study Reveals Anemia Affects Nearly 2 billion People Worldwide

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In a groundbreaking study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and its Global Burden of Disease anemia collaborators, anemia’s global prevalence and impact have been analyzed over three decades, from 1990 to 2021. The study, published in The Lancet Haematology, sheds light on the complex factors contributing to the divergence in anemia outcomes among men, women, and children.

While there has been progress in reducing anemia worldwide, the study highlights significant disparities in prevalence based on geography, gender, and age. The findings underscore the need for comprehensive intervention and treatment plans, particularly for the most vulnerable groups—women of reproductive age, children, and the elderly. 

The study reveals that anemia continues to be a widespread health concern, affecting nearly 2 billion people in 2021. Notably, women are impacted to a greater extent than men. Globally, 31.2% of women had anemia in 2021 compared to 17.5% of men. The gender difference is more pronounced during the reproductive years, with 33.7% of women aged 15–49 experiencing anemia, while only 11.3% of men in the same age group were affected. 

Dietary iron deficiency was identified as the leading cause of anemia in 2021, accounting for 66.2% of all anemia cases. This condition affected 825 million women and 444 million men worldwide. While iron deficiency remains the most common cause, the study highlights several other significant contributors to anemia across different age groups and regions. 

For women of reproductive age, gynecological disorders and maternal hemorrhage were found to be crucial factors contributing to the anemia burden. Meanwhile, for children under 5 years old, dietary iron deficiency was the primary cause. However, hemoglobinopathies, infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and malaria, also played a significant role in areas where these diseases were prevalent. 

Anemia’s consequences differ based on the affected group. In children, anemia can have severe effects on brain development and cognition, emphasizing the importance of early treatment and management. Access to nutrient-rich foods and treatment for parasitic infections and malaria are vital interventions for young children. 

For women and girls, the study reveals gaps in education about menstrual blood loss and inadequate options for effectively managing menstrual problems. Additionally, there is a lack of awareness about managing and reversing anemia when it occurs. Anemia can impact mental health due to associated weakness and fatigue interfering with daily activities. 

Previous studies have shown that anemia is linked to increased rates of anxiety and depression, preterm labor, postpartum hemorrhage, low birth weight, short gestation, stillbirth, and infections for both mothers and children. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are currently facing the greatest anemia burden. In 2021, Western sub-Saharan Africa (47.4%), South Asia (35.7%), and Central sub-Saharan Africa (35.7%) had the highest anemia prevalence, while Australasia (5.7%), Western Europe (6%), and North America (6.8%) had the lowest prevalence. 

The study underscores the need for a shift toward multisectoral approaches to tackle anemia effectively. Interventions must consider factors such as access to nutrition, socioeconomic status, unmet need for contraception, and the ability to identify and treat underlying causes of anemia. Particularly, women of reproductive age, children, and the elderly require special attention in intervention and treatment plans. The 30-year study on anemia provides critical insights into its global prevalence and impact.

While progress has been made in reducing anemia on a global scale, significant disparities persist among different groups, especially women and children. The study emphasizes the importance of addressing the underlying causes of anemia, implementing comprehensive intervention strategies, and improving cultural awareness to ensure that vulnerable populations are not left behind. By focusing on these efforts, the global health community can work together to further reduce the burden of anemia and improve the well-being of millions of people worldwide. 



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