Why South Asian Women Are Suffering from Anemia

Researchers have found that the demographic is more prone to the condition than other groups. What gives?

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A health worker provides medicine to the students for anemia, on the outskirts of Agartala, Tripura, India (Majority World/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Olivia Bowden


February 29, 2024

Suha Syed took pride in competing in high school track and martial arts. But Syed’s body had trouble keeping up with her activities. She often felt exhausted, weak, and dizzy; had difficulty staying awake; and found herself wanting to chew on ice. 

At first, Syed, who grew up in Long Island, was perplexed. But she heard of other South Asian women who had anemia, so, at 14, she got a blood test. Doctors confirmed what she feared. “It made complete sense. I was like, ‘This is why I’m exhausted all the time,’” said Syed, who is now 25. 

Anemia is a condition in which the body lacks sufficient healthy red blood cells or has deficient hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein within red blood cells, to carry oxygen to tissues. Data shows that about 57% of Indian women between ages 15 and 49 are anemic, and 52.5% of women across seven South and Southeast Asian countries, which include India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, and Myanmar, suffer from the condition, compared to a global average of nearly 30%. But, as ample TikTok videos of South Asian Americans and Canadians speaking about anemia show, these high rates persist in resource-rich contexts, too. So why are South Asian women around the world so prone to the condition?

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