Public Health Nutrition

Research Article

Where does the black population of South Africa stand on the nutrition transition?

Lesley T Bournea1 c1, Estelle V Lamberta2 and Krisela Steyna3

a1 Health and Development Research Group, Medical Research Council (MRC), PO Box 19070, Tygerberg 7505, South Africa

a2 MRC/UCT Exercise Science and Sports Medicine Research Unit, University of Cape Town, Sports Science Institute of South Africa

a3 Chronic Diseases of Lifestyle Unit, Medical Research Council, Tygerberg, South Africa


Objective: To review data on selected risk factors related to the emergence of non communicable diseases (NCDs) in the black population of South Africa.

Methods: Data from existing literature on South African blacks were reviewed with an emphasis placed on changes in diet and the emergence of obesity and related NCDs.

Design: Review and analysis of secondary data over time relating to diet, physical activity and obesity and relevant to nutrition-related NCDs.

Settings: Urban, peri-urban and rural areas of South Africa. National prevalence data are also included.

Subjects: Black adults over the age of 15 years were examined.

Results: Shifts in dietary intake, to a less prudent pattern, are occurring with apparent increasing momentum, particularly among blacks, who constitute three-quarters of the population. Data have shown that among urban blacks, fat intakes have increased from 16.4% to 26.2% of total energy (a relative increase of 59.7%), while carbohydrate intakes have decreased from 69.3% to 61.7% of total energy (a relative decrease of 10.9%) in the past 50 years. Shifts towards the Western diet are apparent among rural African dwellers as well. The South African Demographic and Health Survey conducted in 1998 revealed that 31.8% of African women (over the age of 15 years) were obese (body mass index (BMI) ≥ 30 kgm−2) and that a further 26.7% were overweight (BMI ≥ 25 to <30 kgm−2). The obesity prevalence among men of the same age was 6.0%, with 19.4% being overweight. The national prevalence of hypertension in blacks was 24.4%, using the cut-off point of 140/90 mmHg. There are limited data on the population's physical activity patterns. However, the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic will become increasingly important.

Conclusions: The increasing emergence of NCDs in black South Africans, compounded by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, presents a complex picture for health workers and policy makers. Increasing emphasis needs to be placed on healthy lifestyles.


c1 *Corresponding author: Email