The results of Costa Rica's national nutrition surveys show an improvement in the nutritional status of pre-schoolers: the prevalence of underweight (weight for age <-2SD) declined from 6.3% to 5.1%, and stunting (height for age <-2SD) from 7.6% to 6.1% between 1982 and 1996. Among school children, 16.5% of boys and girls were found to be thin, and 14.9% were overweight, when measured by body mass index (BMI). Between 1979 and 1997, the proportion of stunting among first-graders declined from 20.4% to 7.4% (height for age <-2SD).
Among girls between 15 and 19 years old, the prevalence of underweight was 1.4%, and of overweight, 23.2%. Serious obesity, to be considered a priority problem for public health nutrition, was found among women between 20 and 59 years old. Its prevalence rose from 39.7% in 1982 to 49.6% in 1996. In the same period, the nutritional deficit declined from 16.6% to 8.2%.
Based on the same surveys, nutritional anaemia continues to be a slight public health problem as well as vitamin A deficiency among pre-schoolers (8.7% prevalence of low serum retinol <20 µg/dL). Nevertheless, 31.4% showed "marginal" deficiency, meaning that they were at high risk of developing vitamin A deficiency. On the other hand, only 1% of breastfeeding mothers showed vitamin A deficiency. Iodine deficiency does not represent a public health problem at the national level.
With respect to food consumption, the 1996 nutrition survey indicated a per-caput per-day energy intake of 1942 kcal, representing 91.5% of daily energy requirements. The three main sources of energy were rice, cane sugar and fats and oils. In 60% of households, energy intake appeared to be inadequate or critically low. On the other hand, 20% of the households showed an apparently high energy intake.
Protein intake represents 11.1% of total energy intake. The main protein sources were meat, fluid milk and cheese, as well as rice. Carbohydrates contributed 61.5% of total energy, which lies within the range recommended for Costa Rica (60-64%), and fats conferred 27.4%, which is higher than the recommended level of 25%.
Nationally, the proportion with adequate iron ingestion was 68.2%, causing great concern, considering that 78.8% of households were found to be below the 90% adequacy level, which is classified as critical. The main sources of iron were beans, wheat products (bread, biscuits and pasta) and meat. The percentage of retinol adequacy was 127.5%, although one-third of the group studied evidenced low vitamin A availability; vegetables were the main (51%) source.