The diet of Benin is based on starchy roots (cassava, yams) and cereals. Large variations are observed between the north and the south of the country. In the south, the diet is mostly based on maize and fish, while in the north, traditional cereals (millet in particular) still have an important role and meat/milk products are more available. Rice is becoming increasingly important in urban areas, but also in rural areas.
The per capita supply of starchy roots is very high; its share in the dietary energy supply has decreased slightly over the last four decades to the advantage of cereals. The country is relatively self-sufficient in cereals (with the notable exception of rice) and starchy roots, but it is heavily dependant on imports of foods of animal origin for which the per capita supply remains very limited.
The dietary energy supply is higher than the population requirements. The prevalence of undernourishment is declining at about 10%, corresponding to the average of West African countries. Food insecurity is related notably to the unequal distribution of the food supply within the country and to the high incidence of poverty in a context of a long-standing rise in the price of basic food products.
Young child breastfeeding practices (early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding in particular) have improved considerably but efforts need to be maintained. Complementary feeding is introduced in a timely manner but lacks diversity and is poor in micronutrient-rich foods.
In 2008, almost 40% of children aged 6-59 months were stunted, a prevalence which remains very high in spite of a downward trend since the early 2000s. The prevalence of wasting is 5%. The persistence of inadequate young child feeding practices, poor diversity of complementary feeding, as well as limited access to health care and high incidence of poverty are among the major determinants of the high prevalence of chronic malnutrition. In parallel, 9% of children under five years of age were overweight in 2006.
Almost one woman out of ten suffers from chronic energy deficiency (low body mass index). In urban areas, overweight and obesity are widespread; this is reflective of the nutritional transition currently underway in these areas, which results from changes in food consumption and physical activity habits.
Thanks to the universal salt iodization strategy adopted in 1994 and to awareness raising campaigns, iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) are no longer a public health problem. IDD were still a public health problem in 2001 only in the department of Borgou, in the north-east of the country. On the other hand, iodine intake seems too high and calls for better monitoring of the level of iodine in salt. The recent review (2009) of the universal salt iodization strategy should provide opportunity for improvements. The proportion of households who used adequately iodized salt, which is relatively high, has however dropped sharply; awareness raising efforts should continue. New data on vitamin A deficiency among young children are needed since the latest data, which date back from 1999, pointed to a severe public health problem, especially in the northern part of the country. Among women, vitamin A deficiency is not common. Vitamin A supplementation coverage among young children and women remains insufficient but it has been extended considerably over the past few years. Anemia is a serious public health problem which affects more than three-quarters of young children and about 60% of women. Iron supplementation coverage of pregnant women is rather large. Long-term measures have been implemented to combat vitamin A and iron deficiencies, in particular the fortification of cotton oil with vitamin A and that of wheat flour with iron, zinc, folic acid and B vitamins.
Benin has a good agricultural potential and has various programmes to ensure food security. By implementing its national policy on food and nutrition and reinforcing access to a diversified diet, the country will have greater opportunities to improve durably the diet and the nutritional status of its population.