BACKGROUND: Child undernutrition remains a major public health concern in developing countries, with many negative consequences to child development.
OBJECTIVES: To determine the prevalence of stunting, wasting and underweight amongst Grade 1-learners in the North West Province (NWP) of South Africa (SA), taking into account gender, race and school type.
METHOD: Eight hundred and sixteen (419 boys, 397 girls) learners participated in the study (567 black, 218 white, 31 other races). Underweight, stunting and wasting (Weight-for-age, height-for-age, BMI-for-age) were determined using the z-scores of the 2007 WHO reference sample (-2 SD).
RESULTS: A higher prevalence of wasting and underweight were found amongst the boys (8.35%; 5.97%) compared with the girls (6.30%; 2.52%), although this was only significant for underweight (p = 0.02), whilst stunting percentages were very similar amongst girls (4.53%) and boys (4.06%). Underweight was the highest in the black group (5.47%;p < 0.01), compared with the white group (0.46%) and the prevalence of the conditions is associated with school types which represent low socio-economic circumstances (Quintile 1-3 schools). Only black learners showed stunting (p < 0.01) and more black learners were wasted (n = 39) compared with white (n = 15; p = 0.08) learners. Quintile 1-3 schools had a significantly higher prevalence of underweight (5.14% - 8.18%) and stunting (3.88% - 10.7%) (p < 0.01) compared with Quintile 4 and 5 schools.
CONCLUSION: The prevalence of stunting, wasting and underweight need improvement amongst school beginners, especially in Quintile 1-3 type schools but also amongst black learners living in the NWP of SA as it can have significant hampering effects on the future development and well-being of children.