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When people think of debilitating and disabling conditions, it’s often migraines, low back pain, severe depression or age-related cognitive issues that come to mind. Rarely is anemia mentioned. In fact, anemia is the third largest cause of disability worldwide and afflicts nearly 2 billion people, carrying with it a whole host of health issues.

Individual suffering cannot be summed up with numbers. But understanding who is suffering from a given disease in different regions of the world, and why, is key to working toward more effective treatments and solutions.

Drawing on data from a massive international effort called the Global Burden of Disease study, researchers from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation produced a fine-tuned estimate of anemia rates and their underlying causes from 1990 to now, across more than 200 countries and regions. They also broke these numbers down by sex and age, level of severity and years of disability from anemia, ultimately finding that 1 in 4 people worldwide suffer from the condition. Women, adolescent girls and young children – as well as people in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – bear a disproportionately large share of the burden.

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Amanda Mascarelli

Senior Health and Medicine Editor

Anemia symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness and fatigue. Peter Dazeley/The Image Bank via Getty Images

Anemia afflicts nearly 1 in 4 people worldwide, but there are practical strategies for reducing it

William Gardner, University of Washington; Nicholas Kassebaum, University of Washington; Theresa A McHugh, University of Washington

Among young children, adolescents and adult women, anemia strikes 1 in 3 globally. Most cases are driven by dietary iron deficiency, red blood cell disorders and untreated tropical diseases.

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