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‘Why anaemia affects 50% of Nigerian women’

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Professor Ngozi Nnam

Professor Ngozi Nnam

Nutrition Society of Nigeria (NSN) has blamed iron deficiency for high prevalence of anaemia among Nigerian women of reproductive age.

The society hinted that the country faces one of the largest burdens of micronutrient deficiencies in the world, with anaemia and its health impact the most common.

President of the society, Professor Ngozi Nnam, observed that the causes of anaemia vary but approximately 50 per cent per cent of the cases were due to iron deficiency.

Nnam, in a lecture entitled: “Prevalence and consequence of anaemia among women, teenage girls and pregnant women in Nigeria” said adolescent girls and pregnant women are the populations requiring the highest amount of iron intake and are, therefore, most susceptible to iron deficiency.

Statistics show that 49 per cent of women of reproductive age have anaemia, 24.3 per cent have low iron stores and 12.7 per cent of them are iron deficient.

These figures indicate that majority of the adolescent girls and women did not meet the iron requirements of 20 milligrams per day as recommended by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and, the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Nnam added that the typical Nigerian diet is low in iron-rich foods, while cassava and cereals (high in phytates which decreases iron absorption) are commonly eaten staples.

“Pregnant women, teenage girls and women of reproductive age are among the most vulnerable to iron deficiency anaemia because of high iron requirements.

Increasing iron intake during adolescence to prepare for pregnancy is crucial to decreasing the risk of iron deficiency anaemia and negative birth outcomes.

“The commonly consumed traditional dishes may not provide sufficient iron to meet the requirements and it may be a challenge to manipulate these recipes as they are passed down from generation to generation.

In Nigeria, mothers are the kitchen ‘gatekeepers’ and their adolescent daughters learn cooking behaviors from them,” she said. Speaking on a survey findings commissioned by Unilever Nigeria, which focused on iron deficiency anaemia among women in Nigeria, Dr. Folake Samuel, said that the preliminary research findings show that although many Nigerian women are aware that there are iron-rich sources of food in our environment, its benefits as well as the consequences of iron deficiencies, and a lot of them consume these foods, however, the consumption of iron rich food is still low.

Quoting the report, Folake said as a result of this low consumption of iron-rich foods, a significant proportion of the women frequently experience various symptoms of iron deficiency.

The survey sampled 615 women aged 20- 45 years in Lagos to access their level of awareness on iron deficiencies, iron rich food and consequences of iron deficiencies.

According to her, “looking at the awareness level of symptoms of iron deficiency, 55 per cent of the women rated tiredness and fatigue as part of daily life and know that when you suddenly become dizzy out of the blues, it is the consequences of not eating enough iron rich food; pale complexion, being another symptom of anaemia is also common in our society.

Some people mistake a woman being pale as a sign of pregnancy, not knowing that it is an indicator of being anaemic.” Hygiene and Nutrition Social Mission Director, Africa, Unilever, Myriam Sidibe, said the aim of the programme was to provide more sensitisation to the general public on the importance of iron nutrients to the health of individuals, adding that women and children were the group of people more vulnerable to anaemia.

‘’These issues are common among our women and teenage girls and these people are the bedrock and foundation of the home and family which is the unit of the Nation.

‘’These are the critical people in the society and their health is important to nation building; we need to take care of these people,” she said.


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