Lebanon is a small middle-income country of the Middle-East. With high literacy rates and a traditional mercantile culture, Lebanon is an important commercial hub in the region, although economic and social development was hampered by a long civil conflict from the mid-seventies until beginning of the nineties.
The Lebanese population is young, with a relatively high life expectancy at birth (72 years), reflecting a good access to health care and a full access to safe water and sanitation. Most of the health indicators have improved in the past decade.
The country’s economy has been growing steadily since the end of the civil war in 1990, particularly due to the development of the service sector. The current poverty rate is not documented due to the absence of a recent household income and expenditure survey, but previous data and qualitative information suggest high poverty rates are still prevalent in some areas.
The general improvement in the standard of living over the last decades has increased households’ access to affordable traditional varied and energy-dense local foods as well as to a “westernized” type of diet, including fat and salt-rich processed foods. According to some studies among adults, the high intake of fruit and vegetables, a unique feature of the Lebanese diet, goes together with an increase in fat intake which is currently at the higher limit of recommendations. These trends in dietary intake associated with a sedentary lifestyle are the major causes of the emergence of an obesity epidemic.
The nutritional status of the Lebanese population is characterized by a nutrition transition with the persistence of micronutrient deficiencies and chronic malnutrition in young children (stunting), especially in the rural areas, and the emergence of a high prevalence of overweight in all age groups, both in rural and urban areas.
Although Vitamin A deficiency is almost inexistent, iodine deficiency persists and iron deficiency anemia is prevalent, mainly among young children and women of childbearing age. Deficiencies in vitamin D, folate and vitamin B12 were also reported among women of childbearing age.
There is a dearth of up-to-date nationally representative data to document current trends of the above nutrition problems and to serve as a basis for a much needed national nutrition strategy.
¹ All data and comments in this profile refer to the country’s situation prior the summer 2006 conflict.