The medical professional body, Nutrition Society of Nigeria, NSN, on Thursday said 49 per cent of women of reproductive age in Nigeria have anaemia with 24.3 per cent of them having low iron stores and 12.7 per cent, iron deficiency.

The President of NSN, Ngozi Nnam, disclosed this at a press conference it organised in Lagos with Unilever Nigeria.

She said though the causes of anaemia vary, approximately 50 per cent of the cases are due to iron deficiency.

She disclosed that the 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 and, the World Health Organisation.

“Iron deficiency anaemia is a condition in which the red blood cells or their oxygen-carrying capacity is insufficient to meet physiological needs of the body,” she explained.

“The symptoms of anaemic condition include, fatigue, dizziness, weakness, drowsiness, shortages of breath and all these militate against active living and human productivity as iron is critical to learning process and energy for day to day activities.”

According to Mrs. Nnam, Nigeria faces one of the largest burdens of micro-nutrient deficiencies with anaemia being the commonest with a big impact on health of women and children.

She said this had raised serious concerns among those involved in nutrition matters.

The NSN president noted that iron is one of the most prevalent micronutrient deficiencies globally, with almost one of every two women of reproductive age being anaemic in Nigeria.

She said that adolescent girls and pregnant women formed the population that requires the highest amount of iron intake and are, therefore, most susceptible to iron deficiency.

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According to her, the typical Nigerian diet is low in iron-rich foods, while cassava and cereals (high in phytates which decrease 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 behaviours from them.”

Also speaking, a medical practitioner, Folake Samuel, said preliminary research findings show that although many Nigerian women were aware of rich iron sources of food in the country as well as the benefits consequences of iron deficiencies, the consumption of iron rich food was still low, saying “this calls for action and intervention.”

Quoting a survey report, Mrs. Samuel said, “As such, 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.

“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.”

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The Hygiene and Nutrition Social Mission Director, Africa, Unilever, Myriam Sidibe explained that 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.

He said women and children were the group of people more vulnerable to anaemia.

”This issues is 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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