Under- and overnutrition and evidence of metabolic disease risk in rural black South African children and adolescents

  • TM Pedro
  • K Kahn
  • JM Pettifor
  • SM Tollman
  • SA Norris


Objectives: The objective was to determine the prevalence of under- and overnutrition, as well as evidence of metabolic disease risk in rural black South African children and adolescents.
Design: A cross-sectional study was conducted.
Setting: The setting was the Agincourt Health and Socio-demographic Surveillance System site, Mpumalanga province.
Subjects: Six hundred children were randomly selected, of whom 588 were included in the analytical sample (mean age of 11.5 years, range of 7-15 years).
Outcome measures: Outcome measures were anthropometric and blood pressure assessments, Tanner pubertal staging, as well as the determination of fasting serum lipid and glucose concentrations.
Results: Using age and sex-specific World Health Organization 2007  growth references, the prevalence of stunting was determined to be 6.2% in the boys, and 2.7% in the girls, while 4.1% of the boys and 4.4% of the girls were underweight. Combined overweight and obesity prevalence was higher in the girls (13.5%) than in the boys (2.7%). Girls had significantly a higher body mass index and hip circumference than the boys in the early, mid and late pubertal stages. Pre-hypertension prevalence, using either systolic or diastolic blood pressure for sex, age and height, was 15% and 10% in the girls and boys, respectively. Furthermore, impaired fasting glucose (FG) (FG . 5.6 mmol/l) was detected in 5% of the children.  High-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations less than 1 mmol/l were observed in 0.7% of the boys and in 12% of the girls, which is indicative of cardiometabolic risk.
Conclusion: Stunting levels were higher in the boys than in the girls in mid to late childhood in a rural setting in South Africa, while the girls had a higher prevalence of overweight and obesity than the boys.  Pre-hypertension prevalence in the boys and girls was high. Other  metabolic risk factors, i.e. impaired FG and lipids, were also seen in this population and were associated with adiposity. The study highlights the critical need for targeted health promotion interventions to optimise child health as part of a noncommunicable disease preventative strategy.

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eISSN: 2078-6204
print ISSN: 2078-6190