Food Insecurity in Relation to Obesity in Peri-Urban Cape Town, South Africa: Implications for Diet-Related Non-Communicable Disease

Appetite. 2019 Jun 1;137:244-249. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2019.03.012. Epub 2019 Mar 11.


In urban informal areas of South Africa, obesity and hunger represent two sides of food insecurity. Despite this, public health and clinical obesity interventions focus on nutrition education, implying dietary choice and thereby overlooking food insecurity. The objective of this paper is to explore peri-urban residents' perspectives of changing food environments, framed by the Food Aid Organization (FAO) definition of food security and demonstrating the interconnectedness of dimensions of food security. We conducted three-part in-depth interviews with 21 participants and nine focus group discussions with a total of 57 participants, consisting primarily of women aged 20-84, in a peri-urban township and informal settlement outside of Cape Town, South Africa. Participants' encounters in clinical settings framed choice as a driver of diet-related non-communicable disease (NCD). Yet participants lacked economic access to food, particularly at the end of the month. Diets consisted of fewer green leafy vegetables relative to their diets in rural areas, despite affirming a preference for these foods. They described consuming more meat, which was also perceived as unhealthy. Based on self-report, residents within this peri-urban area of South Africa were food insecure: they lacked access to food at specific times of the month, they were unable to consume foods they preferred, and they felt that their diets were neither nutritious nor enabled an active and healthy life. When viewed in terms of multiple facets of food security, participants' concurrent experiences of hunger and obesity were unsurprising. Health interventions related to diet should incorporate an understanding of food security as shaped by the interactions of access, availability, utilization and stability.

Keywords: Food security; Non-communicable disease; Obesity; South Africa; Urbanization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Food Supply*
  • Humans
  • Hunger
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Noncommunicable Diseases / epidemiology
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Young Adult