National surveys in Nicaragua in children under five years of age show that malnutrition (both global and chronic) improved considerably between 1966 and 1993, while there was a slight worsening of the situation between 1993 and 1998. The most recent study of the nutritional status of the population shows that in 1998, 12% of children less than five years old were underweight, 25% were stunted and 4% were overweight. The highest prevalence of stunting were found in the departments of the Central-North region, in particular Madriz (49%) and Jinotega (39%) (MINSA, 1999).
In 1998, adult malnutrition was evaluated for the first time in women and concluded that the average Nicaraguan woman is underweight. By residential zone, the greatest prevalence of stunting in women is in the rural areas. The prevalence of overweight and obesity is 29% and 12%, respectively, and highest among women of 35 years or more, living in urban areas.
The population of Nicaragua not only faces problems of growth retardation but also serious vitamin A deficiency and anaemia due to iron deficiency in children, students and adult women. More specifically, one in three children has vitamin A deficiency and anaemia. One in three women are affected by anaemia caused by deficient consumption and increased absorption or losses not compensated by food. These deficiencies tend to be greater in the rural and urban groups of low socio-economic levels.
The main causes of the nutritional status are due to the short duration of exclusive breastfeeding and early introduction of food and other liquids that satiate the hunger but do not nourish the body. In addition to the deficient consumption of dietary energy (2190 kcal/day) and protein (44 to 51 g/day), the poor rural population suffers other deficiencies as a result of an insufficient intake of products of animal origin and other sources of iron and vitamin A, such as the fruits and vegetables.
This situation is attributable to problems of food access due to low levels of income (C$750,00 minimum wage average and the cost of the food basket is C$1,587.00). The employed population is low in relation to the open unemployed population (15%). At rural level, in addition to food access problems, production and environmental sustainability are limiting food resources for auto consumption and income to cover other basic necessities, which severely affects levels of development and food security.