Anemia in severe acute malnutrition

Nutrition. 2014 Apr;30(4):440-2. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2013.09.011. Epub 2013 Oct 2.


Objectives: India has the highest prevalence of severe acute malnutrition (SAM). Severe anemia is one of the comorbidities responsible for increased mortality in severely malnourished children, yet it has not received the attention it should. The aim of the present study was to determine the prevalence and type of anemia and to evaluate the possible etiologies for severe anemia, in these children.

Methods: A cross-sectional study of patients with SAM in a tertiary care hospital in northern India over a period of 12 mo from Sept. 1, 2010 to Aug. 31, 2011 was conducted. We observed the prevalence of severe anemia (hemoglobin < 7 g/dL), morphologic type of anemia, number of patients requiring blood transfusion, hematologic profile of mothers, nature of feeding, duration of exclusive breastfeeding, and the demographic profile of these patients.

Results: Included in the study were 131 cases of SAM. The age group varied between 6 and to 59 mo. Of patients with SAM, 67.3% had severe anemia; 13.8% had moderate anemia. Of these patients, 25% required packed red blood cell transfusion. The most common type of anemia was microcytic (38.6%) followed by megaloblastic (30.5%).

Conclusions: A high incidence of severe anemia in SAM with a large proportion (25%) requiring blood transfusion is a pointer toward nutritional anemia being a very common comorbidity of SAM requiring hospital admission. Because megaloblastic anemia closely followed microcytic anemia, supplementation with vitamin B12 in addition to iron and folic acid would be recommended.

Keywords: Anemia; Severe acute malnutrition.

MeSH terms

  • Anemia / blood
  • Anemia / complications*
  • Anemia / epidemiology
  • Anemia / therapy
  • Anemia, Megaloblastic / complications
  • Anemia, Megaloblastic / epidemiology
  • Anemia, Megaloblastic / therapy
  • Blood Transfusion
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / blood
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / complications*
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • India / epidemiology
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / blood
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / complications*
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Hemoglobins