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Obes Res. 2002 Oct;10(10):1038-48.

Obesity in South Africa: the South African demographic and health survey.

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  • 1Chronic Diseases of Lifestyle Unit of the Medical Research Council, Burden Tygerberg, South Africa.



To ascertain the anthropometric profile and determinants of obesity in South Africans who participated in the Demographic and Health Survey in 1998.


A sample of 13,089 men and women (age, > or =15 years) were randomly selected and then stratified by province and urban and nonurban areas. Height, weight, mid-upper arm circumference, and waist and hip circumference were measured. Body mass index (BMI) was used as an indicator of obesity, and the waist/hip ratio (WHR) was used as an indicator of abdominal obesity. Multivariate regression identified sociodemographic predictors of BMI and waist circumference in the data.


Mean BMI values for men and women were 22.9 kg/m(2) and 27.1 kg/m(2), respectively. For men, 29.2% were overweight or obese (> or =25 kg/m(2)) and 9.2% had abdominal obesity (WHR > or =1.0), whereas 56.6% of women were overweight or obese and 42% had abdominal obesity (WHR >0.85). Underweight (BMI <18.5 kg/m(2)) was found in 12.2% of men and 5.6% of women. For men, 19% of the variation of BMI and 34% of the variation in waist circumference could be explained by age, level of education, population group, and area of residence. For women, these variables explained 16% of the variation of BMI and 24% of the variation in waist circumference. Obesity increased with age, and higher levels of obesity were found in urban African women.


Overnutrition is prevalent among adult South Africans, particularly women. Determinants of overnutrition include age, level of education, ethnicity, and area of residence.

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