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Background: South Africa is experiencing a dramatic increase in obesity in both urban and rural areas. It is important to understand access to food better and how this influences food choice in rural environments. This study aimed to explore the nature and availability of fast foods in rural South Africa.
Method: Convenience sampling was used to procure fast food samples. The study was conducted in rural northeast South Africa in four villages, part of the South African Medical Research Council and University of the Witwatersrand-Agincourt Health and Socio-Demographic Surveillance System (HSDSS). The outcome measures were assessment of the availability of fast foods and their macronutrient composition.
Results: This study highlights the availability of fast foods through informal community vendors. Of note is the limited variety of foods sold by informal vendors, of which a striking two thirds were either vetkoek or fried chips, which on average yielded 943–5 552 kJ and 11–64 g fat. Additionally, we found that rural vendors sold a local fast food item, the kota.
Conclusion: Given that rural South Africa is undergoing rapid health, social, and nutrition transitions, this study signals the need for more comprehensive research to improve our understanding of the contributory role of fast food and its connection with both livelihoods and the burgeoning obesity epidemic in poorer rural areas. It is through better research and greater understanding that we can work with communities and local government to improve access to more nutrient-rich foods that are less energy dense.
Keywords: fast food, vendor, rural, nutrition transition, South Africa