13 October 2008

SA kids remain undernourished

Stunting and underweight remain the most common nutritional disorders in SA, while obesity numbers are also still growing. During National Nutrition Week, we take stock.

Stunting and underweight remain the most common nutritional disorders in South Africa, while obesity numbers are also still growing. During National Nutrition Week (9-15 October), we take stock.

Despite major national efforts to turn the tide on child malnutrition, stunting and underweight still affects almost one out of five and almost one out of ten South African children respectively. By contrast, 10% of children nationally can be classified as overweight and 4% as obese.

These results of the National Food Consumption Survey Fortification Baseline were released at the 2008 Nutrition Congress in Pretoria (September 2008).

This major report provides an overview of trends on the nutritional status of children and women of childbearing age, food procurement and inventory, knowledge, attitudes and practices of women with regard to food fortification. The research builds on the findings of the National Food Consumption Survey (1999), which formed the basis on which decisions on food fortification were made and legislated for in October 2003.

The research encompassed a cross-sectional survey of a nationally representative sample of children, using the Census 2001 data. The survey population consisted of all the children, aged 1 – 9 years, and women of reproductive age (16 – 35 years) living in the same household.

Some of the most significant findings are as follows:

1. A very significant percentage of the country's population still live under adverse socio-economic conditions. Nationally, more than one in two households (55%) had a monthly income between R1 – R1000, with urban informal households reporting the highest percentage of no income (6%) as well as an income of R1 – R500 (35%).

2. At the national level, one out of two households (51.6%) experienced hunger as determined by the hunger scale, approximately one out of three was at risk of hunger and only one out of five appeared to be food secure.

At the provincial level, the prevalence of households experiencing hunger was highest in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Limpopo. It seems that the prevalence of hunger had not improved since the findings of the National Food Consumption Survey in 1999. However, researchers warn that these comparative findings should be interpreted with caution.

3. In terms of fortification of micronutrients, South Africa seems to have achieved the virtual elimination of iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) thanks to the widespread fortification of table salt. In fact, there is concern that certain pockets of the population – particularly communities living in the Northern Cape – are now consuming excessive amounts of iodine due to a high concentration of the mineral in drinking water.

Folic-acid status appears to be adequate throughout the country. This may be the first indication that, for a water-soluble vitamin, the national food fortification programme is beneficial. Folic acid plays a crucial role in preventing neural-tube defects in infants.

However, more needs to be done to achieve optimal levels of iron, zinc and vitamin A – three of the micronutrients that have been added to South African maize and wheat bread flour since 2004.

According to the research study, two out of three children and one out of four women nationally still had a poor vitamin A status (in fact, it looks as if there's a slight deterioration in vitamin A status since 1999), whereas 45.3% of children still had an inadequate zinc status.

The researchers also found that, at the national level, one out of five women and one out of seven children had a poor iron status. Once again, it looks as if the prevalence of poor iron status in children have increased since 1999.

- (Carine van Rooyen,, October 2008)

- Executive summary of the National Food Consumption Survey Fortification Baseline (NFCS-FB-I) South Africa, 2005.


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