Iron deficiency (ID) is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, affecting approximately 2 billion people.1 Today it’s not only a clinical condition, but a serious public health issue.1 Despite ID’s easily identifiable and treatable nature, it is frequently overlooked.2 Several obstacles need to be overcome to manage ID effectively.
ID in women
ID affects more women than men, with 20% of women worldwide being iron deficient.3 In South Africa, 50% of women suffer from ID4 – surpassing the global average.
Individuals with ID may experience fatigue, headaches, increased risk of anxiety and depression, and a slew of other symptoms that can lead to impaired quality of life.5-7 Overall, ID has overwhelming and almost holistic implications that can drastically impact quality of life.
ID is by no means a gendered issue. Whilst it may seem that focusing solely on educating women about ID may reinforce gender stereotypes and skew the scales of gender inequality in healthcare, it is crucial to acknowledge that certain health conditions may affect genders differently.
Just as men are more likely to have high blood pressure, women are more likely to be iron deficient.5,8 By providing targeted education and awareness initiatives, the specific needs and concerns of women can be addressed without reinforcing stereotypes.
Empowering individual women in their health journey does not take the stance of assuming that they are solely responsible for managing their health. By providing education about ID, women can become more aware of the symptoms and risk factors associated with ID.
Knowledge equips them with the information needed to be proactive in their healthcare journey. This positions women as active participants in their health, fostering a sense of agency and ownership over their own wellbeing.
Moreover, in some communities, discussing health concerns, especially those related to women’s health, might be considered taboo. By actively promoting education and open dialogue about ID, these barriers can be broken down, creating a safe space for women to address these issues without fear or shame.
Educating a woman does not stop at that woman – it ignites knowledge that spans families, communities, and generations.
The power of women
Women support every aspect of society and have the power to enact change. They play pivotal roles in families and communities as caregivers, educators, and decision-makers. When women are informed and healthy, they can better care for their families and advocate for the health of their communities.
History is peppered with real-life stories of women making a difference by sharing knowledge.
During the Women’s Suffrage movement, women turned knowledge-sharing into inspiration and action, creating a ripple effect that rallied women across the nation and changed the course of history – something that is still celebrated during Women’s Month.
The lesson? By tapping into the collective power of South African women, they can be educated and empowered to share their knowledge of ID, creating a chain reaction to reach women across South Africa.
Positive change can be created by harnessing the power of their conversations; South African women can become influencers.
In looking at the current campaigns that are emerging out of the health and wellness space in South Africa, there are noticeable gaps in which wellness advertising is falling short. There is no denying that this type of advertising is complex with regulations limiting what can and cannot be said, however this does not mean that every form of creativity should be discarded.
At the core of every condition is a human experience. As such, even with a topic like ID, there is an emotional side to the problem: a side that is both de-medicalised and humanised.
To open the conversation about ID amongst South African women, it is important to hear these women; to hear their stories and to encourage knowledge sharing so that they can each become drivers of change. With a treatable condition like ID, the emotion of this realistic storytelling becomes the bigger picture.
Educational approaches are evolving as the significance of tapping into real life narratives becomes more understood. By crafting campaigns that resonate with women, every individual woman can be empowered.
In a Women’s Month piece recently launched speaking to women educating other women about ID, an entirely new conversation was opened. Going further to find resonance, and most importantly, create impact, meant that health and wellness advertising could be pushed in a new direction.
Take a moment to think about what the women around you have taught you. As a library of knowledge begins to unfold, the immense role that women have in shaping communities becomes illuminated.
Women are at the centre of knowledge, and it is through their collective efforts that South Africa can become healthier and stronger.
To learn more about iron deficiency and to recognise possible symptoms, click here: www.ferrimed.co.za.
- Zeng L, Pei L, Li C, Yan H. Iron deficiency anaemia. [online] 2018 [cited 2023 Aug 7]. Available from: URL: https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/55455.
- Miller JL. Iron Deficiency Anemia: a Common and Curable Disease. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine. 2013;3(7).
- OHSU. Pump Up Your Iron | Center for Women’s Health | OHSU [Internet]. Center for Women’s Health. 2023 [cited 2023 Aug 7]. Available from: https://www.ohsu.edu/womens-health/pump-your-iron.
- Phatlhane DV, Zemlin AE, Matsha TE, Hoffmann M, Naidoo N, Ichihara K, et al. The iron status of a healthy South African adult population. Clinica Chimica Acta. 2016;460:240-245.
- Mayo Clinic. Iron deficiency anemia. 2016. [Online] [cited 2023 Aug 7]. Available from: URL: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355034?p=1.
- Lee HS, Chao HH, Huang WT, Chen SCC, Yang HY. Psychiatric disorders risk in patients with iron deficiency anemia and association with iron supplementation medications: a nationwide database analysis. BMC Psychiatry. 2020;20(1).
- Kumar A, Sharma E, Marley A, Samaan MA, Brookes MJ. Iron deficiency anaemia: pathophysiology, assessment, practical management. BMJ Open Gastroenterology. 2022;9(1):e000759.
- Everett B, Zajacova A. Gender Differences in Hypertension and Hypertension Awareness Among Young Adults. Biodemography and Social Biology. 2015;61(1):1–17.