The relationship between stunting and overweight among children from South Africa: Secondary analysis of the National Food Consumption Survey – Fortification Baseline I

Elizabeth A Symington, Gerda J Gericke, Johanna H Nel, Demetre Labadarios



Background. Globally, in children the prevalence of overweight and obesity is increasing, and this is associated with an increased risk of non­communicable diseases in adulthood. There is a need to examine the growing trends of overweight and obesity in children and their consequences in low­ and middle­income countries.

Objectives. To describe the prevalence of, and determine the relationship between, stunting and overweight among children in two provinces of South Africa.

Methods. Secondary data analysis was conducted on anthropometric measurements of 36 ­ 119­month­old children from Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces (N=519) participating in the South African National Food Consumption Survey – Fortification Baseline I (2005). The International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) body mass index (BMI) reference percentiles were used to determine overweight and obesity. The World Health Organization standards were used to derive z­scores.

Results. The prevalence of overweight was 12.0% (IOTF BMI ≥25 kg/m2), including 3.7% obesity (IOTF BMI ≥30 kg/m2). The predominantly urban Gauteng Province had a significantly higher prevalence of overweight children (14.1%) compared with Mpumalanga (6.3%) (p=0.0277). The prevalence of stunting was 17.0% (16.5% Gauteng, 18.2% Mpumalanga; p>0.05). There was a significant correlation (r=−0.32) between BMI and height­for­age z­scores (p<0.0001). In the obese group, 68.4% were stunted, while in the normal and underweight group only 13.6% were stunted.

Conclusions. Stunted children were more likely to be obese. Further research is necessary for clarity on the physiological mechanisms of this relationship. In the interim, prevention of stunting requires priority. 

Authors' affiliations

Elizabeth A Symington, Department of Life and Consumer Sciences, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, University of South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa

Gerda J Gericke, Department of Human Nutrition, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Johanna H Nel, Department of Logistics, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Demetre Labadarios, Population Health, Health Systems and Innovation, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

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Overweight; Obesity; Stunting; Children; Low socioeconomic status

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2016;106(1):65-69. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2016.v106i1.9839

Article History

Date submitted: 2015-06-12
Date published: 2015-12-16

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