Background: There is a global epidemic of overweight and obesity; however, this rate of increase is even greater in some low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). South Africa (SA) is undergoing rapid socioeconomic and demographic changes that have triggered a rapid nutrition transition. The paper focuses on the recent rate of change of body mass index (BMI) among children, adolescents and young adults, further stratified by key sociodemographic factors.
Methods: We analysed mean BMI of 28 247 individuals (including children) from 7301 households by age and year, from anthropometric data from four national cross-sectional (repeated panel) surveys using non-linear fitted curves and associated 95% confidence intervals.
Results: From 2008 to 2015, there was rapid rise in mean BMI in the 6-25 age band, with the highest risk (3-4+ BMI unit increase) among children aged 8-10 years. The increase was largely among females in urban areas and of middle-high socioeconomic standing. Prominent gains were also observed in certain rural areas, with extensive geographical heterogeneity across the country.
Conclusions: We have demonstrated a major deviation from the current understanding of patterns of BMI increase, with a rate of increase substantially greater in the developing world context compared with the global pattern. This population-wide effect will have major consequences for national development as the epidemic of related non-communicable disease unfolds, and will overtax the national health care budget. Our refined understanding highlights that risks are further compounded for certain groups/places, and emphasizes that urgent geographical and population-targeted interventions are necessary. These interventions could include a sugar tax, clearer food labelling, revised school feeding programmes and mandatory bans on unhealthy food marketing to children.The scenario unfolding in South Africa will likely be followed in other LMICs.
Keywords: Body mass index; South Africa; adolescents; children; nutritional transition; rapid gain; young adults.
© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association.