Overweight and obesity in learners residing in the Belhar, Delft and Mfuleni communities of Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

12 Nov 2020

Introduction: South Africa is a country in a state of transition with rapid urbanization occurring in all parts of the country. Recent reports have suggested high prevalence rates of obesity and overweight in almost all segments of the population. Objectives: To determine the prevalence of overweight and obesity amongst 10-16 year old learners in an urban area of Cape Town, South Africa. Methods: Data was collected from 338 randomly selected school children between the ages of 10-16 from the urban communities of Belhar, Delft and Mfuleni. Anthropometric measurements were performed using standard procedures. A structured questionnaire on physical activity was administered to all participants. Overweight and obesity were estimated according to the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) criteria. Results: 15.7% of the learners were overweight and 6.2% were obese. Though the prevalence rate of overweight was significantly higher in females (21.1%) than males (8.4%), no gender differences were observed with respect to obesity (4.2% vs. 7.7%) While overweight was significantly higher in African (21.8%) than Coloured learners (13.7%), obesity rates were similar between the two groups (5.8% vs. 6%). African females had significantly higher rates (p<0.05) of overweight (30.8%) than Coloured females (17.6%) but no differences were observed between male learners. Nearly half of the African females by the age of 16 years were overweight. Physical inactivity including time spent on television viewing was not associated with either overweight or obesity. Conclusion: A high prevalence rate of overweight was observed in Coloured and African learners. The highest rates were observed in African females above the age of 14 years. The high rates observed in children from these lower to middle income group families suggest the need for concerted preventive intervention.