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SAMJ: South African Medical Journal

On-line version ISSN 2078-5135

Abstract

TATHIAH, N et al. South Africa's nutritional transition: Overweight, obesity, underweight and stunting in female primary school learners in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. [online]. 2013, vol.103, n.10, pp. 718-723. ISSN 2078-5135.

BACKGROUND: Malnutrition substantially impacts the health outcomes of children. Globally, the childhood prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased, while underweight and stunting (though decreasing) continues to pose a major public health challenge. In low- to middle-income countries, a mixed pattern of over- and undernutrition (nutritional transition) can exist in communities. OBJECTIVE: To describe the prevalence of malnutrition among female learners in the Nongoma and Ceza districts in Zululand, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). METHODS: We performed a secondary analysis of anthropometric data collected during the 2011 HPV Vaccination Demonstration Project. School health teams, comprising trained nurses, measured the height (in cm) and weight (in kg) of 963 female learners in 31 primary schools. Internationally accepted standardised measures were used as cut-offs for defining overweight, obesity, underweight and stunting. RESULTS: We found evidence of both under- and overnutrition. Overall, 9% of female learners were overweight, 3.8% obese, 4% underweight and 9.2% stunted (using WHO/NCHS criteria). The highest levels of stunting were in the 11 - 12-year age groups, of underweight in the 10-year age group, of overweight and obesity in the 9 - 10-year age groups. Moreover, a proportion of underweight (17.4%), overweight (11.1%) and obese (22.9%) learners were also stunted. CONCLUSION: Our study describes the prevalence of overweight and obesity, wasting and stunting of female learners in KZN and suggests the presence of a nutritional transition in these rural communities; however, further studies are needed. Our findings emphasise the need for health promotion and education programs in schools.

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