Viewpoint: New Global Focus Placed on Reducing Anemia in Adolescent Girls

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Recently, the World Health Assembly set out new global nutrition targets. These targets will guide and influence priorities in health programming and investments. One such ambitious goal is to see a 50 per cent reduction of anemia in women of reproductive age by 2025.

There are approximately 600 million adolescent girls in the developing world. In order to reach the World Health Assembly target, it will be essential to reach those girls. The World Health Organization recommends intermittent or weekly iron and folic acid supplements (IFA) for non-pregnant women of reproductive age, including adolescent girls. However, IFA supplementation programs tend have been known to be designed without specific strategies for reaching adolescent girls.

I have heard adolescence referred to as “the awkward years” when individuals explore self-expression and autonomy, but it is also most definitely an awkward period for public health services in terms of delivering nutrition, as we often fail to reach this age group. The good news is that recently their nutrition has been getting more attention.

Reducing anemia in adolescents is often motivated by efforts and interests to improve maternal and newborn health for pregnant adolescents. However, when we truly understand the consequences of anemia throughout a woman’s life, the benefits of reducing it to improve adolescent school performance and productivity at work cannot be ignored.

And we must also make a concerted effort to reduce anemia in pregnant adolescent girls. The rate of adolescent pregnancy is growing — 17 to 20 million per year – despite the decline in the global birth rate over the past decade. Adolescents account for 11 per cent of global pregnancies, with 95 per cent occurring in developing countries.

Complications from pregnancy and child birth are the second greatest contributor to mortality for girls 15-19 years of age. Compared with older mothers, pregnancy during adolescence is associated with a 50 per cent increased risk of stillbirths and neonatal deaths, and greater risk of preterm birth, low birth weight and small for gestational age.

Source: The Huffington Post (link opens in a new window)

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