Tackling child malnutrition in Jamaica, 1962-2020

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On the eve of independence in 1962, 40 to 60 per cent of Jamaican children aged 6 to 24 months died of malnutrition or gastroenteritis. In the decades following, child malnutrition rates rapidly declined: in 2000, less than 4 per cent of all Jamaican children under five were underweight. Based on a wide range of sources, including public documents, newspaper reports, scientific studies and reports by international agencies, this article examines the process by which child malnutrition rates declined in Jamaica in the decades after independence. In particular, it will show that changes in the global economy and conditions imposed by international lenders intersected in complex ways with local factors, making it difficult for the Jamaican government to lower child malnutrition. In doing so, it adds to the history of medicine in post-colonial contexts, which has so far not paid much attention to nutrition.
Because of the complex interplay between local and global factors, this article will argue that traditional forms of public health nutrition are incapable of effectively addressing the increasing double burden of malnutrition faced by low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) – the coexistence of undernutrition with overweight and obesity. In Jamaica today pockets of high child malnutrition exist alongside rapidly rising levels of childhood obesity. To address this, a multi-faceted approach is needed, involving different ministries and government agencies. Jamaica experimented with such an approach in the 1970s. The following will set out some lessons we can learn from this experiment and other approaches used to lower child malnutrition levels in post-independence Jamaica.
Original languageEnglish
Article number50
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalHumanities and Social Sciences Communications
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2020


  • malnutrition
  • caribbean
  • history of medicine
  • Jamaica
  • obesity

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