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NEW DELHI: Women’s health in India is facing a serious nutritional challenge, with the country on the one hand grappling with the largest number of anaemic women in the world and on the other having to deal with diseases linked to obesity which is rapidly increasing among the fairer sex.
Findings of the new Global Nutrition Report 2017 place India at the bottom of the table with maximum number of women impacted with anaemia in the world, followed by China, Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia. In India, more than half (51%) of all women of reproductive age have anaemia, whereas more than one in five (22%) of adult women are overweight, according to the data.
The report analysed the situation in 140 countries against targets set in May last year at the World Health Assembly (WHA) held in Geneva.
Experts say that while the government has started to recognise the problem of anaemia and under-nutrition in women, India has made no progress in addressing it as there are too many gaps. The report highlights that the country presents worse outcomes in the percentage of reproductive-age women with anaemia, and is off course in terms of reaching targets for reducing adult obesity and diabetes.
In 2016, the report showed that nearly 48% of women in India were anaemic.
India’s government is recognizing that the country cannot afford inaction on nutrition but the road ahead is going to be long. The Global Nutrition Report highlights that the double burden of undernutrition and obesity needs to be tackled as part of India’s national nutrition strategy. For undernutrition, especially, major efforts are needed to close the inequality gap” said Purnima Menon, senior research fellow in the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)’s South Asia Office in New Delhi.
Doctors say mere undernutrition is not the cause for high anaemia burden in India. “Only nutrition cannot address the problem. Poor hygiene is a major cause for anaemia because it prevents absorption of nutrition,” said Dr Indu Taneja, senior consultant, obstetrics & gynaecology at Fortis Escorts Hospital.
Low awareness, illiteracy and the practice of putting the family before self when it comes to care are factors that often deter women in India from taking proper nutrition and care for themselves leading to anaemia, says Dr Taneja.
“The impact can be severe at times, especially when it happens in the child-bearing age,” she said. Anaemia among women in the reproductive age often leads to health issues in the mother as well as the child. While such women are prone to infection and my need blood transfusion during pregnancy, children borne of such women often remain under-developed with poor immunity.
However, the report points out anaemia is a global issue that many women in high income countries also suffer from. The report pegs the prevalence rates in countries like France and Switzerland at around 18%.
Globally, 614 million women aged 15-49 years were affected by anaemia.
The report found ‘significant burdens’ of three important forms of malnutrition used as an indicator of broader trends – childhood stunting, anaemia in women of reproductive age and overweight adult women.
In India, latest figures show that 38% of children under-5 are affected by stunting and 21% of under-5s are defined as ‘wasted’ or ‘severely wasted’, meaning they do not weigh enough for their height.
The report found the vast majority (88%) of countries studied face a serious burden of two or three forms of malnutrition. It highlights the damaging impact this burden is having on broader global development efforts.