How gender norms affect anemia in select villages in rural Odisha, India: A qualitative study

Erica Sedlander, Sameera A Talegawkar, Rohini Ganjoo, Chandni Ladwa, Loretta DiPietro, Aika Aluc, Rajiv N. Rimal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In India, 50% of women of reproductive age, compared with 23% of men, have iron deficiency anemia. Extant research focuses on biological, not social, determinants of this disparity. Objectives: The aim of this study was to examine how gender norms may affect anemia prevalence among women in rural India. Methods: We conducted 16 focus group discussions (N = 124) with women of reproductive age, husbands, and mothers-in-law and 25 key informant interviews in four villages in Odisha, India. Results: We identified the following themes that help explain how inequitable gender norms exacerbate anemia among women from different castes and tribes: Due to a double burden of work outside the home and completing the majority of unpaid work in the home, women lack time to visit health centers to get tested for anemia and to obtain iron supplements. Women are expected to prioritize the health of their family over their own, thus affecting their access to health care. Women's autonomy to leave the house to seek health care is limited. Men are the primary breadwinners for the family, but often spend their money on alcohol, rather than on iron-rich food for the household. Intra-household food allocation favors men, in-laws, and children, thus women serve their family first, often being left with little food. Conclusion: Anemia reduction interventions need to include examination of the whole social context to successfully increase iron supplement use and iron-rich food intake. Understanding how gender norms contribute to anemia could change the narrative from a biomedical to a social justice issue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111159
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Anemia
  • Gender norms
  • India
  • Qualitative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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