As we enter World Breastfeeding Week, it is important to discuss the impacts that iron deficiency anemia (IDA) has on mothers and their babies. When people who give birth are healthy before they become pregnant, they are more likely to have a healthy pregnancy, which increases the likelihood that they will birth a healthy child. Despite the investment and effort, almost every country in the world has a high level of iron deficiency. Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world and disproportionately impacts women and girls. IDA is both a factor and a fallout of gender inequality because of social and economic factors that make women and girls uniquely vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies.
Maternal anemia is associated with poor pregnancy outcomes such as miscarriage, stillbirths, prematurity, and low birth weight which means that poor nutrition is passed down through generations. Maternal anemia also reduces the cognitive development of the child. Research has shown that there is a correlation between insufficient milk supply and the iron status of the mother. The World Health Organization estimates that 40 percent of all children aged 6-59 months, 37 percent of pregnant women, and 30 percent of women of reproductive age have some form of anemia. The failure to address IDA in new mothers consigns millions of women and their babies to poor health and generations of children to impaired development and learning. As a result, IDA traps families in a generational cycle that perpetuates their inequality.
The World Health Assembly committed to cutting the prevalence of anemia in half by 2025 and the world is not on track to meet that target. Anemia affects twice as many women as men. The scale and consequences of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and anemia in girls and women is often overlooked and underrecognized and, in the face of cascading global health, economic, and food crisis, it is likely there will be even more cases. It is important to design interventions that recognize the unique circumstances that make women and girls more vulnerable to and likely to have IDA.
These interventions need to reach women and girls before they become pregnant for the health of future generations. It is in our collective interest to make investments in anemia prevention now so that our future is healthy. August 1st to 7th is World Breastfeeding Week and therefore, the focus and attention is on mothers and their babies. However, it is important that the dialogue surrounding nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies recognize that women and girls have the right to good health for their own sake and not just for their role as mothers or potential mothers.
At Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise (LIFe), we are committed to furthering the incredible work being done by partnering with organizations like CARE, Global Medic, and many more who are committed to improving the lives of the most vulnerable communities worldwide, particularly women and girls. LIFe works alongside its partners to support initiatives that address micronutrient deficiencies and malnourishment in women and girls, and stops intergenerational outcomes of iron deficiency.