Study links PM2.5 pollutants to anemia prevalence

Long-term exposure to airborne particulate matter — PM2.5 pollutants — may increase the prevalence of anemia in women of reproductive age due to systemic inflammation, a study has shown.

According to the study, “Reducing the last of anemia in Indian women of reproductive age with clean-air targets,” the prevalence of anemia will drop from 53 percent to 39.5 percent if India meets its recent clean air targets, and 186 districts below the national target of 35 percent. The prevalence of anemia in India among women of childbearing age (15-45 years) is among the highest in the world.

The research, which appeared in the journal Nature Sustainability at the end of August, was conducted by researchers from institutions and organizations in India, the US and China, including IIT-Delhi and IIT-Bombay.

The findings state that for every ten micrograms/cubic meter of air that increases environmental PM2.5 exposure, the average anemia prevalence in such women increases by 7.23 percent. “Our results suggest that the clean energy transition would accelerate India’s progress towards the ‘anemia-free’ mission goal,” says the study, which takes into account data from the National Family Health Survey-4 and National Sample Survey Office, along with PM 2.5 levels in different districts.

Among PM 2.5 sources, sulfate and black carbon are more associated with anemia than organics and dust, the study finds, adding that of the sectoral contributions, industry was the largest. This was followed by the unorganized sector, domestic resources, the energy sector, road dust, agricultural waste incineration and the transport sector.

Anemia, a leading cause of the global burden of disease, is characterized by a decreased hemoglobin concentration in the blood and is often accompanied by a decrease in the number of red blood cells. This results in a decrease in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.

Women of reproductive age can regularly have iron deficiency due to menstruation and are therefore particularly prone to developing anemia (from mild to severe). Iron deficiency in the diet is another major cause of anemia. Other contributing factors include genetic disorders, parasitic infections, and inflammation from infections and chronic diseases. The World Health Organization has set a goal to halve anemia among women of reproductive age by 2053.

Anemia is common in India. The 2015-2016 National Family and Health Survey (NFHS-4) reported that 53.1% of WRA and 58.5% of children under the age of five had anemia.

India launched a program under the POSHAN Abhiyaan with the aim of making the country ‘anemia-free’ and setting a target to reduce anemia in WRA to below 35% by 2022. Since iron deficiency is the primary cause of the major burden of anemia, the Ministry of Health and Family is concerned with increasing the iron intake of the population.

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