In Jamaica the anthropometric data of children under five are collected as part of the Survey of Living Conditions (SLCs), which have been carried out annually since 1989 by the Planning Institute of Jamaica. The 2000 survey estimated prevalence levels of 5% of underweight, 4% of stunting and 2% of wasting. The situation is likely to be different at sub-national level as in 1992 the parish of Hanover, in particular, reported 29% of stunting and 19% of underweight. When compared to the 1995 data from the Survey of Living Conditions, these results indicated an improvement for all three indicators. The prevalence of overweight (4%) did not change over the period 1990-1995, but by 2000 it increased to 5%. Again, differences are expected at the parish levels. In 1992 disparities were observed among parishes, ranging from less than 1% in St. Catherine to 4% in St. Mary.

Among the age group 10-16 years, females have a higher mean Body Mass Index (BMI) (20.2 kg/m2) than males (18.4 kg/m2). Still among this age group, the highest mean BMI is in the North West, while the lowest is in the North East of the island.

Anthropometric measurements in adults carried out in 1997 nation-wide found that the prevalence of obesity was 20%, and that an additional 32% was overweight. Two earlier studies found that the prevalence of obesity was higher in women (15.6% in 1994-95 and 32% in 1991) than in men (4% in 1994-95 and 7% in 1991). A similar pattern emerged from these two studies with respect to the prevalence of overweight (women: 38% in 1994-95 and 33% in 1991; men: 15% in 1994-95 and 24% in 1991).

Iron deficiency anaemia is the most important micronutrient deficiency in Jamaica. The prevalence, in 1997, among children aged 1-4 years and 5-16 years were respectively of 48% and 24%. The prevalence of anaemia among pregnant women in 1997 was 21%, while in 1996 about 18% of pregnant women screened at the health clinics were anaemic with prevalence varying by parish from 7% (Manchester) to 28% (Westmoreland). No surveys were done to assess Iodine deficiencies. Marginal Vitamin A deficiency is not considered to be a public health problem.

No national surveys on food consumption have been carried out in Jamaica that could help explain the nutritional status of the different age groups. However, as indicated by the SLCs, there has been a 9% increase in the number of meals consumed outside of the home since 1992-1999. This has contributed to the high availability of fats in total dietary energy supply and may explain, in part, the high prevalence of overweight and obesity observed among adults.

Still, economic access to food remains the major cause of the nutritional problems assessed in the country. Among the Jamaican population, 19% are living below the poverty line, a large number of which lives in the rural areas, where a lack of adequate socio-economic infrastructures is observed. The high level of malnutrition observed in the main cities also can be related to a high level of unemployment and to a certain extent to the low, yet decreasing, percentage of mothers exclusively breastfeeding in the first six weeks.

© FAO 2010