Public Health Nutrition

Monitoring and surveillance

Overweight among children decreased, but obesity prevalence remained high among women in South Africa, 1999–2005

Herculina S Krugera1 c1, Nelia P Steyna2, Elizabeth C Swarta3, Eleni MW Maundera4, Johanna H Nela5, Lynn Moenga6 and Demetre Labadariosa2

a1 Centre of Excellence for Nutrition, North-West University, Private Bag X6001, Potchefstroom 2520, South Africa

a2 Centre for the Study of Social and Environmental Determinants of Nutrition, Population Health, Health Systems and Innovation, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

a3 Division of Nutrition, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa

a4 School of Health and Social Care, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK

a5 Department of Logistics, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa

a6 Department of Health, Pretoria, South Africa


Objective The aim of the present study was to assess anthropometric status in South African children and women in 2005 in order to document temporal trends in selected anthropometric parameters.

Design Heights and weights were measured in a cross-sectional study of children aged 1–9 years and women aged 16–35 years. The WHO reference values and BMI cut-off points were used to determine weight status.

Setting South Africa, representative sample based on census data.

Subjects Children (n 2157) and women (n 2403).

Results Stunting was the most common nutritional disorder affecting 21·7 % of children in 1999 and 20·7 % in 2005. The difference was not statistically significant. Underweight prevalence remained unchanged, affecting 8·1 % of children, whereas wasting affected 5·8 % of children nationally, a significant increase from 4·3 % of children in 1999. Rural children were most severely affected. According to the international BMI cut-off points for overweight and obesity, 10 % of children nationally were classified as overweight and 4 % as obese. The national prevalence of overweight and obesity combined for women was 51·5 %. The prevalence of overweight in children based on weight-for-height Z-score did not change significantly (8·0 % to 6·8 %, P = 0·138), but the combined overweight/obesity prevalence based on BMI cut-off points (17·1 % to 14·0 %, P = 0·02) decreased significantly from 1999 to 2005.

Conclusions The double burden of undernutrition in children and overweight among women is evident in South Africa and getting worse due to increased childhood wasting combined with a high prevalence of obesity among urban women, indicating a need for urgent intervention.

(Received August 11 2010)

(Accepted September 09 2011)

(Online publication October 18 2011)


c1 Corresponding author: Email