The nutritional status of children under 5 years old, as evaluated by population surveys has improved tangibly. The prevalence of malnutrition, as measured by underweight, declined from 21% (weight for age < - 2 SD) in 1966, to 17% in 1980, 10% in 1989, 8% in 1995, and 7% in 2000. Similar decreases took place for other anthropometric indicators of malnutrition: height for age (stunting), 32%, 22%, 17%, 15% and 14%, and for the indicator weight for height (wasting), 4%, 5%, 3%, 1% and 0.8%, respectively.
However, there are regional differences associated with lesser development. The prevalence of stunting is disproportionably high in the rural areas and in the Cauca and Nariño departments. The coastal regions (both Atlantic and Pacific) and the rural areas are more greatly affected by underweight, while the lowest level (3%) is found in the Cauca Valley. Perhaps these differences reflect the existing disparities among poverty levels in these regions.
An emerging problem, obesity among women between 15 and 49 years old, was quantified and found that in 1995 the percentage of overweight women (BMI between 25.0 and 29.9 kg/m2) was 31%, and the percentage of obese women (BMI above 30 kg/m2) was 9%. In 2000, the percentage of women with BMI above 25 reached 41%.
Although deficient body mass (BMI <18.5 kg/ m2) among Colombian women was not so prevalent (4% in 1995 and 3% in 2000), there were regional differences: in the Bogotá region, the percentage of underweight women was 1.5%, whereas in the Atlantic region the proportion was 8%.
There are no recent studies of consumption habits. In 1981, food consumption was high in cereals (28%), low in pulses (3%), high in sweeteners (19%) and relatively low in fats (12%).
The prevalence of anemia was studied by three national surveys in 1965, 1977 and 1995. An increase was found among children under 5 years old (14%, 18% and 23%); a decline was found only in Bogotá (27%, 17%, and 5%). By contrast, the prevalence of anemia among women dropped (41%, 25% and 23%). The prevalence of various types of goiter among school children was 7%. Geographic distribution is not uniform. Lastly, between 1977 and 1995, the percentage of children with plasma retinol levels under 20 µg/dL declined from 24% to 14%.
Steady economic growth of about 4.5% per year during the past 40 years, together with a drop in the population growth rate (1.6%), has helped to improve the communities' social conditions.