Rapidly increasing body mass index among children, adolescents and young adults in a transitioning population, South Africa, 2008-15.
Sartorius B., Sartorius K., Taylor M., Aagaard-Hansen J., Dukhi N., Day C., Ndlovu N., Slotow R., Hofman K.
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.