Background: Anemia in women of reproductive age (WRA) (age range: 15–49 y) remains a public health problem globally, and reducing anemia in women by 50% by 2025 is a goal of the World Health Assembly.
Objective: We assessed the associations between anemia and multiple proximal risk factors (e.g., iron and vitamin A deficiencies, inflammation, malaria, and body mass index) and distal risk factors (e.g., education status, household sanitation and hygiene, and urban or rural residence) in nonpregnant WRA.
Design: Cross-sectional, nationally representative data from 10 surveys (n = 27,018) from the Biomarkers Reflecting Inflammation and Nutritional Determinants of Anemia (BRINDA) project were analyzed individually and pooled by the infection burden and risk in the country. We examined the severity of anemia and measured the bivariate associations between anemia and factors at the country level and by infection burden, which we classified with the use of the national prevalences of malaria, HIV, schistosomiasis, sanitation, and water-quality indicators. Pooled multivariate logistic regression models were constructed for each infection-burden category to identify independent determinants of anemia (hemoglobin concertation <120 g/L).
Results: Anemia prevalence was ∼40% in countries with a high infection burden and 12% and 7% in countries with moderate and low infection burdens, respectively. Iron deficiency was consistently associated with anemia in multivariate models, but the proportion of anemic women who were iron deficient was considerably lower in the high-infection group (35%) than in the moderate- and low-infection groups (65% and 71%, respectively). In the multivariate analysis, inflammation, vitamin A insufficiency, socioeconomic status, and age were also significantly associated with anemia, but malaria and vitamin B-12 and folate deficiencies were not.
Conclusions: The contribution of iron deficiency to anemia varies according to a country’s infection burden. Anemia-reduction programs for WRA can be improved by considering the underlying infection burden of the population and by assessing the overlap of micronutrient deficiencies and anemia.