According to the 1981 national health and nutrition survey 29% of the children under 5 years old were malnourished (0.5% severely, 3.6% moderately and 24.9% mildly) using the Gomez weight-for-age classification. This level represented a decrease in the level of malnourished pre-school children in the population, compared to earlier estimates which indicated that 39% were malnourished (0.3% severely, 3.2% moderately and 35.5% mildly) in 1975. According to the 1981 survey results, 3.8% of the pre-school children were obese (weight-for-height). Among children 5-9 years, a slightly larger proportion of girls compared to boys were underweight (15.9% vs. 14%) as well as overweight (5.6% vs. 3.2%). No recent data are available to represent the current situation.
In 1981, among the adolescents (10-19 years) the prevalence of overweight was fairly high especially among girl, with a 20% prevalence of overweight among 10-14 year olds and a 19% prevalence among 15-19 year olds. The level of malnutrition, while very similar for males and females (10-14 years), was significantly higher among females than males in the 15-19 year age group.
The obesity prevalence is even higher among adults. An unpublished study carried out in 1991 among an urban population (>25 years) found that 10% and 31% of males and females respectively were obese. Fifteen percent of males and 28% of the females were overweight. The prevalence of overweight appears to be on the increase, as in 1981 38.0% of the females (>15 years) were overweight or obese, while 16.2% of the males were overweight or obese.
The micronutrient deficiency of importance in Barbados is iron. The prevalence in 1981 among children 6-59 months was 31.3%, with a greater proportion of boys (52.5%) compared with girls (38.2%) being anaemic. When a lower cut-off point (< 10.5 g/dL) was used to indicate the presence of anaemia, only 14.9% of the children 6-59 months were anaemic. This represented a decline in the prevalence of anaemia among this age group compared to survey findings in 1969 and 1975. Similarly when the prevalence of anaemia was determined by the criteria used by the 1969 survey (< 11.5 g/dL for males and < 11 g/dL for females), 25.4% of males and 29.1% of females (5-14 years) were found to be anaemic. These levels appear to represent an increase in the prevalence of Anaemia among school children compared to 1969, although a wider age group was examined in 1969. Again using the 1969 criteria, the prevalence of anaemia among the non-pregnant and non-lactating females was approximately the same for 1969 (19.0%) and 1981 (18.8%).
The most recent national survey on food consumption carried out in Barbados was in 2000. Also, three surveys conducted between 1969 and 1981, along with more recent data, provide some information on the consumption pattern in the country. The proportion of protein derived from foods from animals increased from 38.8% in 1996 to 58.2% in 1996-98. This resulted in an increase in the amount of fat consumed. Along with the increase in per caput dietary energy supplies (DES) between 1965 (2636 kcal//day) and 2000 (3025 kcal//day) may also be factors contributing to the prevalence of overweight and obesity in the population.
The proportion of average monthly income spent on food decreased from 51% in 1969 to 40% in 1981, possibly due to an improvement in the economic status of the population. Between 1993 and 1999 the World Bank reported that 8% of the population was living below the poverty line. This segment of the population is at risk for low nutrient intake, especially among children living in these households.