Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Food security in South Africa: a review of national surveys

Demetre Labadarios, Zandile June-Rose Mchiza, Nelia Patricia Steyn, Gerda Gericke, Eleni Maria Winifred Maunder, Yul Derek Davids & Whadi-ah Parker


To assess the status of food security – i.e. access to food, food availability and food utilization – in South Africa.


A systematic search of national surveys that used the Community Childhood Hunger Identification Project (CCHIP) index to measure food security in South Africa over a period of 10 years (1999–2008) was conducted. Anthropometric data for children aged 1–9 years were used to assess food utilization, and household food inventory data were used to assess food availability.


Only three national surveys had used the CCHIP index, namely, the 1999 and 2005 National Food Consumption Surveys (NFCS) and the 2008 South African Social Attitudes Survey. These surveys showed a relatively large decrease in food insecurity between 1999 and 2008. However, the consistent emerging trend indicated that in poorer households women were either feeding their children a poor diet or skipping meals so their children could eat. In terms of food access and availability, the 1999 NFCS showed that households that enjoyed food security consumed an average of 16 different food items over 24 hours, whereas poorer households spent less money on food and consumed fewer than 8 different food items. Moreover, children had low mean scores for dietary diversity (3.58; standard deviation, SD: ± 1.37) and dietary variety (5.52; SD: ± 2.54) scores. In terms of food utilization, the NFCS showed that stunting in children decreased from 21.6% in 1999 to 18% in 2005.


The South African government must implement measures to improve the undesirably high level of food insecurity in poorer households.