\'Big is beautiful\' - an exploration with urban black community health workers in a South African township

  • T Puoane
  • JM Fourie
  • M Shapiro
  • L Rosling
  • NC Tshaka
  • A Oelefse


Objectives. To explore perceptions about factors associated with body weight and body image among black female community health workers (CHWs) living and working in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

Design. A descriptive, cross-sectional study.

Setting. Khayelitsha, a black township in Cape Town, South Africa.

Subjects. Forty-four black, female, Xhosa-speaking CHWs working in Khayelitsha.

Outcome measures. Anthropometric measures (height, weight, and waist circumference) were taken. Body mass index (BMI) was computed as a measure to estimate total body fat. Waist circumference was used as a measure of abdominal obesity. Focus groups were employed to explore beliefs and attitudes about body size. Information from the focus group discussions was used to develop a semi-structured questionnaire for individual interviews, which were conducted to validate the data from the focus groups, and to assess knowledge on causes and risk factors associated with obesity. A body satisfaction question was also included in the questionnaire. Body image was measured using body shape drawings (pictograms).

Results. Of the 44 women measured, 2 had normal weight (BMI 18.5 - 24.9 kg/m2), 2 were overweight (BMI 25 - 30 kg/m2), 25 were obese (BMI 30 - 40 kg/m2) and 15 were extremely obese (BMI ≥ ( 40 kg/m2). A moderately overweight shape (BMI 27 kg/m2) was preferred; this was associated with dignity, respect, confidence, beauty and wealth. Perceived causes of obesity were eating the wrong food, skipping breakfast and worries about debts, husbands/partners and teenage children. Negative aspects of obesity included body aches and tiredness.

Conclusion. This study emphasises the prevalence of obesity among urban black women in South Africa, particularly among CHWs. Socio-cultural, behavioural and environmental factors seem to influence the development of obesity in this population.

South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol. 18 (1) 2005: 8-15

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2078-6204
print ISSN: 2078-6190