Public Health Nutrition

Research Paper

Underweight, overweight and obesity among South African adolescents: results of the 2002 National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey

SP Reddya1, K Resnicowa2, S Jamesa1, N Kambarana3, R Omardiena3 c1 and AD MBewua1

a1 Medical Research Council, City of Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

a2 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

a3 ARCH Actuarial Consulting, PO Box 12573, Mill Street, Cape Town 8010, South Africa


Objective The present paper reports the prevalence of underweight, overweight and obesity by gender, ethnicity and grade, among participants in a 2002 national survey among South African school-going youth that included height and weight measurements.

Design A stratified two-stage sample was used. Nationally representative rates of underweight, overweight and obesity were calculated using weighted survey data and compared using χ2 analysis.

Setting In all, 9224 grade 8 to grade 11 students, present at school in selected classes within selected South African government-funded schools in all nine provinces, participated in this study. Most of the students were between 13 and 19 years of age.

Results Higher rates of underweight were observed for males than females as well as for black and ‘coloured’ than white students. Within each gender group, black and ‘coloured’ students had significantly higher rates of underweight than their white counterparts. Higher percentages of females than males were overweight and obese, overall and among black students. Furthermore, white male students had significantly higher rates of overweight than their black and ‘coloured’ counterparts. Among females, black and white students had significantly higher rates than ‘coloured’ students. Students in higher grades showed significantly lower rates of underweight and higher rates of overweight.

Discussion These data confirm that South Africa, a developing nation in socio-economic transition, is experiencing both undernutrition and overnutrition. However, these problems are disproportionately distributed by gender, socio-economics and ethnicity. Continued surveillance of nutritional status may be one important component of a national strategy to prevent and control malnutrition.

(Received February 21 2007)

(Accepted April 16 2008)


c1 Corresponding author: Email