Uruguay has three types of nutritional problems. Firstly, there are problems that affect specific groups of the population, i.e. energy and protein malnutrition found among children under 5 years old belonging to indigent or below poverty line households. This problem has been monitored since 1980, and a significant decline of the phenomenon has been detected with respect to various forms of underweight, stunting and wasting (Map 3).
Secondly, there are the problems of excess, such as obesity, which is quite prevalent, placing the entire country's population at risk regardless old or socio-economic status, although the most affected groups are adults and the aged. This problem is aggravated by its association with degenerative diseases (cardiac, osteoarticular, digestive, diabetes, etc.).
Lastly, there exists a group of nutritional problems exist with unknown prevalence, such as nutritional anaemia and vitamin A deficiency, which should be studied soon, especially among children under 2 years old and women of child bearing age.
Even though the population's educational level is satisfactory, Uruguayans' knowledge, attitudes and practices concerning food are inadequate; hence, programmes of nutritional education for healthy diets should be initiated forcefully and urgently for the entire population.
Recent estimates of food consumption confirm the belief that the population is at high risk of suffering from ailments and obesity caused by (a) excessive energy intake, and (b) high consumption of animal products, particularly beef and milk products, which translates into a diet rich in fats, of which two-thirds are saturated animal fats. Fish consumption is low, and the consumption of vegetables and fruit has not yet reached acceptable levels, although it is improving (Table 3).
The country finds itself in a demographic post transition, with a high and rising proportion of persons over 65. An epidemiological transition also exists and cardiovascular ailments and cancer have become the primary causes of death in general, and congenital anomalies, which are the primary cause of mortality among children under 5 years old.
These problems affect a small country, with low population density (Map 1), oriented towards food export, that has improved its macroeconomic indicators in these last years, particularly its human development index, hereby reaching in 1999 the 40th ranking position at worldwide level, reducing poverty to one of the lowest levels in Latin America.