The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, situated in North Africa, is a mostly desert country facing strong constraints in terms of availability of water resources and of food self-sufficiency. The population is relatively young, mostly urban and concentrated in the coastal area. Agriculture is not sufficiently productive to meet the food needs of the population. The country's economy, largely state controlled, is heavily dependant on oil production and exports.
The government has invested in health care, sanitation and education. As a result, levels of immunization of children are high, polio has been eradicated, access to improved water sources and sanitation is good, and important efforts are made to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The food supply, characterized by a high availability of fruit and vegetables, has increased markedly overtime, particularly since the late 1970s. The dietary energy supply largely satisfies the population's energy requirements. Moreover the three most important food groups, cereals, oil and sweeteners provide almost three quarters of the energy supply. This diet, dense in energy and poor in micronutrients is conducive to overnutrition. Currently, Libya is totally dependant on imports of cereals.
Breastfeeding is widespread and its early initiation is common. However, the duration of exclusive breastfeeding remains very short and bottle-feeding is frequent. In 1995, almost one child out of six was stunted, but more recent estimates are needed to assess the current nutritional status of preschool children. Meanwhile the country is undergoing a nutrition transition. Consequently adult women are affected by a high prevalence of overweight and obesity. Among women both undernutrition and overnutrition are prevalent. The country thus suffers from the double burden of malnutrition.
Due to lack of data, assessing the extent of micronutrient deficiencies remains difficult. A salt iodization programme is in place but no data are available to assess its impact. Prevalence of vitamin A deficiency is not documented. Anemia could be a major public health issue, as recent but limited data from Tripoli, the capital, showed that more than two-thirds of school-age children were affected. There is currently no programme to address iron deficiency anemia. It is of vital importance to carry out a national nutrition survey to assess the current prevalence of nutrition problems, to target vulnerable groups and to define effective strategies to combat both undernutrition and overnutrition.