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Open Access Research article

High prevalence of obesity among women who enrolled in HIV prevention trials in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: healthy diet and life style messages should be integrated into HIV prevention programs

Handan Wand1* and Gita Ramjee2

Author Affiliations

1 The Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia

2 HIV Prevention Research Unit, Medical Research Council, Durban, South Africa

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:159  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-159

Published: 21 February 2013



In South Africa, poverty and the dual epidemics of HIV and tuberculosis underscore the need for prevention efforts for obesity. The aim of this study was to describe the prevalence of obesity in a cohort of South African women and discuss the implications for public health practices.


A total of 5,495 HIV-negative women from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa enrolled in three microbicide trials during the period of 2002–2008 were categorised as normal weight (body mass index (BMI: 18.6-<25), overweight (BMI: 25-<30) or obese (BMI: 30+). Incidence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections such as Chlamydia and gonorrhoea were also estimated and compared by BMI groups. Combined data was analysed using STATA 10.0.


Approximately 70% of the sample population was classified as being overweight or obese. Older age and lack of education were determined to be significant predictors of obesity. Women who were 35 years or older were more than three times as likely to be overweight and more than 12 times as likely to be obese compared to the youngest group. The highest HIV and STI incidence rates were observed among those with BMI <25 kg/m2 (normal weight) compared to women with BMI more than 25 kg/m2 (8.1 and 19.8 per 100 person-year respectively, P<0.001, both).


Effective obesity prevention strategies are needed to re-formulate HIV prevention programmes by incorporating healthy diet and life style messages to target those who are at highest risk not just for HIV infection but also for non-communicable diseases.

Body mass index; Sexual risk behaviours; HIV; South Africa