The prevalence of anaemia among Indian women has seen little improvement in 10 years, witnessing a rather small decline from 55% in 2005-06 to 53% in 2015-16, a detailed version of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) released this month by the ministry of health and family welfare said.
The statistics for men are no better, with 23% men in the age group of 15 to 49 being anaemic in 2015-16, compared with 24% in 2005-06.
According to the survey, about 40% of women are mildly anaemic, 12% are moderately anaemic, and 1% are severely anaemic.
Among men, 12% are classified as mildly anaemic, 10% moderately anaemic, and 1% severely anaemic.
“The overall prevalence of anaemia is consistently high, at more than 50%, in almost all of the subgroups of women. For men, the prevalence is above 20% in most of the subgroups. Anaemia also varies by maternity status—58% of women who are breastfeeding are anaemic, compared with 50% of women who are pregnant and 52% who are neither pregnant nor breastfeeding," the survey said.
The prevalence of anaemia decreases with schooling from 56% among women with no schooling to 49% among women with 12 or more years of schooling.
Across the same levels of schooling, the prevalence of anaemia among men decreases from 29% to 18%.
“The proportion of anaemic women and men declines steadily as the wealth of the household increases, from 59% in the lowest wealth quintile to 48% in the highest wealth quintile among women and from 32% in the lowest wealth quintile to 17% in the highest wealth quintile among men," the survey said.
“Women in urban areas are slightly less likely to be anaemic (51%) than those in rural areas (54%). The difference is larger for the prevalence of anaemia in men (25% in rural areas versus 18% in urban areas)," it stated.
The prevalence of anaemia among women was found to be over 60% in Jharkhand, Haryana, West Bengal, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, and less than one-third in Mizoram (25%), Manipur (26%), Nagaland (28%), and Goa (31%) during NFHS-4. The prevalence of anaemia is also very high in the union territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli (80%), Chandigarh (76%), and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (66%).
Doctors believe that provision of iron and folic acid supplements in health programmes will not solve the problem of anaemia.
“In India, supplementation of only iron and folic acid is inadequate to prevent or correct anaemia among adolescents. Other haemopoietic (blood forming) nutrients are equally important in managing it. In addition to iron, there are other nutrients that prevent or reduce anaemia and these include vitamin B6, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, vitamin C, folate and proteins. These nutrients are actively involved in the process of blood formation (haemopoiesis)," Dr Anita Kant, head of department, gynaecology, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, Faridabad, said.
“Traditionally Indian girls tend to eat less which leads to poor nutritional intake and leaves them malnourished," Kant added.