Maternal hemoglobin depletion in a settled Northern Kenyan pastoral population


  • Elizabeth M. Miller

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109
    • Department of Anthropology, 101 West Hall, 1085 S. University Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1107, USA
    Search for more papers by this author


Objectives: This study examines maternal hemoglobin depletion in a cross-sectional sample of Ariaal women living in northern Kenya. Maternal hemoglobin depletion occurs when women do not have enough dietary iron to replace the high levels of iron allocated to the fetus during pregnancy.

Methods: To study this phenomenon, reproductive histories, socioeconomic status, anthropometry, and hemoglobin levels were collected from a cross-section of 200 lactating Ariaal women in northern Kenya.

Results: Ariaal women show increasing levels of hemoglobin with increasing time since birth and lower hemoglobin levels with increasing parity, indicating an incomplete repletion of dietary iron over women's reproductive lifetime. Women who lived in a more livestock-dependent village had higher hemoglobin levels and lower prevalence of clinical anemia than women who lived in villages more dependent on agriculture, indicating that differences in diet may alleviate the effects of iron depletion.

Conclusions: These data demonstrate that Ariaal women are iron depleted due to pregnancy, incompletely replete hemoglobin during the course of lactation, and show depletion of hemoglobin with increasing parity. Women in this community may be able to improve their iron status through a greater reliance on food sources rich in dietary iron. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.