Prevalence of unexplained anaemia in Inuit men and Inuit post-menopausal women in Northern Labrador: International Polar Year Inuit Health Survey

Jennifer A. Jamieson, Hope A. Weiler, Harriet V. Kuhnlein, Grace M. Egeland


OBJECTIVE: To identify correlates of hemoglobin (Hb) and anaemia unexplained by iron deficiency (UA) in Canadian Inuit adults.

METHODS: A cross-sectional survey assessed diet, demographic information, anthropometry, fasting Hb, ferritin, soluble transferrin receptor (on a subset), high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) in serum, red blood cell (RBC) fatty acid composition, blood lead, and antibodies to Helicobacter pylori in non-pregnant, Inuit adults (n = 2550), ≥18 years of age from randomly selected households in 36 Inuit communities in Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut Territory and Nunatsiavut of Northern Labrador, Canada.

RESULTS: Hb concentrations were lower and UA prevalence higher in Inuit men after 50 years of age. Rate of anaemia was constant among Inuit women but changed from primarily iron deficiency anaemia pre-menopause, to primarily UA in post-menopause. Low education levels and hs-CRP were associated with increased risk of UA. For Inuit men, % RBC eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and elevated blood lead were also associated with increased risk of UA. Frequency of traditional food intake was positively associated with Hb.

CONCLUSION: Age patterns and regional variation of anaemia suggest that ethnicity-related physiological differences cannot explain anaemia prevalence for Inuit. High RBC EPA status, inflammation and infections, and lower education levels may contribute to the prevalence of anaemia in this population, which is not related to iron status. Thus, traditional lifestyle may protect Inuit from nutritional anaemia but contribute to lower Hb through environmental exposures. The clinical significance of UA for older Inuit adults requires further investigation, as the prevalence represents a moderate public health problem.


Hemoglobin; anaemia; indigenous health; inflammation; nutrition

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