There are few data on the nutritional status of people in Mauritania, and the available results of surveys are for the most part difficult to interpret, because of the inadequacy of methodologies used and the lack of precise information.
The most recent national survey on the anthropometric status of children under five years of age, conducted in 1995, showed extremely high rates of stunting (44%), indicating a serious problem of chronic malnutrition. The situation is equally worrying as regards wasting and underweight, the prevalence of which was respectively 7% and 23%. However, these malnutrition rates are on the decrease when compared to the results of the 1990 survey. There are great regional disparities (the Centre region is the most affected), depending on the areas (rural areas are more affected than urban areas), life styles (nomadic populations are more disadvantaged, although their status was last documented in 1990 ; their assets are steadily decreasing).
As regards malnutrition among adults, with many reservations on these figures, the national EPCV survey for 1989/90 showed a prevalence of underweight (BMI under 18,5 kg/m2) in close to 13% of women and 22% of men. In women, there is also a significant tendency to be overweight (36% with a BMI > 25) and obese (BMI > 30). These figures are in effect a confirmation that obesity is often found among Mauritanian women : this is due to traditional food habits that favour women.
Although data on micronutrient deficiencies are even rarer in Mauritania, it would appear that the most frequently encountered problems are those related to iodine and Vitamin A deficiencies.
Quantitative data on food consumption in Mauritania are non-existent, and they are very fragmentary regarding household food expenditures. The results of the 1989 EPCV survey indicate that in urban areas such expenditures are double those in rural areas, where the role of self-consumption is important. Moreover, these results underscore that household food consumption and availability greatly depended on food aid.
Food and energy availability (FEA) has increased regularly over the past 30 years, going from around 2,000 kilocalories per person per day to over 2,580. The highest increase followed the drought in the beginning of the 1970s, starting in 1974-76 ; this coincided with record-high food imports (close to 70% of FEA came from imports at that time). Mauritania is an extremely arid country, consisting for the most part in desert areas or semi-desert areas due to very low rainfall (1% only of land receives sufficient water for permanent crops) or the absence of irrigation possibilities except along the Senegal river on the southern border.
The effects of climatic vagaries on livestock, food imports and food aid based primarily on cereals, together with the sedentary lifestyle of nomadic populations (the percentage of whom has gone from 75% in 1965 to under 10% at present), and rapid urbanization (from 9 to 51% in three decades, with a forecast of 73% for 2025), have all implied significant changes in Mauritanians' life styles and food habits.