By Anya Vohra:
Always having been slim I never thought of anaemia as the reason behind it until a few years ago. I recollect being called different names like stick and skinny and that’s the reason I hated being thin. People who met me for the first time asked me my weight instead of my name, I was subjected to name calling and teasing. People say being thin is easy but they are clearly oblivious of the underlying social and emotional cost of being slim. Diagnosed with a mild case of anaemia at an early age motivated me to delve deeper to find out more about its symptoms, causes and prevention.
I invested time researching about this disease and the numbers were a shocker! Although anaemia affects 52% of the female population in India, over 68% of the total Indian females are unaware of the condition! More than half of the pregnant women in our country are mildly anaemic and 42.6% are moderately anaemic. The situation is the worst for adolescent girls, 27.1% of whom are severely anaemic.
Anaemia is most often synonymous with being thin, and often not recognized as a medical condition. It’s almost as if you’re thin you MUST be anaemic; the casual attitude and ignorance of people towards this disease troubled me. My research showed that while many types of anaemia can’t be prevented, the most common of them, caused by iron-deficiency, can be outdone with a vitamin-rich diet. Iron-deficiency anaemia suppresses human productivity, which indirectly hampers national growth and development.
My deep dive into this affliction made me realize that if I, with good nutrition, can be a victim of such a disease then what about those who do not have access to the same level of nutrition as me? Thus started my Youth Anaemia Initiative born out of an incessant motivation to make a difference. My objective is to spread awareness of the disease itself and about the dietary needs to prevent it. I have developed cost effective solutions which could be incorporated by economically weaker sections of society into their daily diet. After doing comprehensive study I came up with a few budget-conscious solutions:
-Vitamin C is effective in preventing anaemia as it helps in increasing iron absorption and sources of vitamin C include lemons, sweet lime, pineapple and guava.
-A good diet must include iron-rich foods which include chickpeas, watermelon, lentils, bajra (millet), jawahar, pumpkin seeds.
-Folate synthesized from folic acid can be found in bananas, cauliflower, legumes and papaya.
-Vitamin B12 is also essential and sources include milk, yoghurt, sweet potato and carrot.
-Vitamin A is also helpful in preventing anaemia. Sources include pumpkin, milk, melon and tomatoes.
Most all of these are affordable and easily available and are a regular part of Indian kitchen menus and India being primarily agrarian a majority of the above is grown by farmers.
I also unearthed two unpalatable notions girls often buy into or are passive spectators too.
Firstly, that society places an optic premium on girls that are slim. To conform to these stereotypes, girls often starve themselves which also leads to anaemia due to the low percentage of nutrients and vitamins they consume.
Secondly, and this is important, girls are more often than not, especially in rural areas, fed an inferior diet vis a vis boys based on the premium placed on the boy perceived as an asset and girl as a liability.
A person should never be discriminated on the basis of either their weight or gender. I have visited a number of NGOs and taught girls from classes 6-10 about the symptoms, causes and preventions of anaemia as well the need to place health ahead of beauty and demand the same food as their brothers.
Clearly a lot needs to be done and not just about anaemia. Females at last count (despite infanticide) are over 500 million and it’s unacceptable to have a half a billion disenfranchised citizens. We have to bring about that change and I believe I am doing my small part in catalysing that metamorphosis.
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