Indicator 9. Percentage of women of reproductive age (15-49) with anemia

Rationale and definition:

Micronutrients are essential for good health, however shortfalls of one or more micronutrients are common in some regions due to diet, poverty, and/or illness.1 Micronutrient deficiencies are especially devastating to pregnant women and children, as deficiencies during the first 1000 days can have lifelong affects on physical, mental, and emotional development. Anemia is a multi- factorial disorder caused mainly by iron deficiency and infections and to a lesser extent by deficiencies of vitamin A, vitamin B12, folate, and riboflavin. Anemia affects half a billion women worldwide, or about 29% of non-pregnant women and 38% of pregnant women, mostly in South Asia and Central and West Africa. It is estimated that half the cases of anemia are due to iron deficiency.2  Anemia in women of reproductive age serves as a proxy for micronutrient deficiencies in the absence of more comprehensive indicators. Data on anemia prevalence collected in 1993-2005 are available for 73% of non-pregnant women of reproductive age, in 82 countries, (WHO 2012).


Disaggregated by age, socioeconomic status, rural/urban, and ethnicity or indigenous status.

Comments and limitations:

Tracking anemia in women of reproductive age accurately measures the risk of micronutrient deficiency to the most vulnerable (the developing fetus), but is not a perfect proxy for status of all micronutrients across all populations and sub-populations. Ideally, countries would track deficiencies of iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin A, folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin D across all ages, genders, and other socioeconomic gradients. This would give a more robust portrait of the nutritional state of a country. Today it would be challenging to implement such an indicator, but the development of rapid diagnostic tests for micronutrient deficiency could make this feasible before the end of the SDG period. In fact, some countries are already collecting data on iron, iodine, vitamin A, folate, and vitamin B12 at a national level.3

Preliminary assessment of current data availability by Friends of the Chair:


Primary data source:

Administrative data from health ministries survey reports.

Potential lead agency or agencies:

Such data is collected by FAO and WHO and would need to be combined into a composite index that would form an essential component of a post-2015 monitoring framework.

  1. Persons have a shortfall in an essential micronutrient when that nutrient is not at adequate levels in the body. This could result from insufficient intake of the micronutrient in food, or insufficient uptake into the body due to illness.

  2. United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition (2014). Measurement of and Accountability for Results in Nutrition In the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals: A Technical Note. United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition.

  3. WHO (2014c).