An African perspective on nutrition and ageing

  • A.R.P. Walker South African Institute for Medical Research


Although the proportion of elderly in African populations is much smaller than that in white populations, it is increasing. Since the huge majority of Africans are in poor economic circumstances, questions arise as to how well they manage, particularly regarding their eating habits and nutritional state. On the one hand the limited information available indicates major shortfalls from international dietary recommended allowances of nutrients. Yet, outwardly, elderly Africans appear to manage better than would be expected. Unfortunately, no cross-sectional nor prospective studies in this area have been undertaken on representative groups of African elderly. In view of the increasing poverty of the populations of most African countries, it would be of value to learn from nutritional and clinical studies, of minimum food intakes which are still consistent with everyday good health.


Allain, T.J., Matenga, J.Q., Gomo, Z.A.R., Adamchak, D.J. & Wilson, A.O. 1996. Determinants of happiness and life satisfaction in elderly Zimbabweans. Central African Journal of Medicine, 42: 308-311.
Amosun, S.L. & Reddy, P. 1997. Healthy ageing in Africa. World Health 1997, 4:18-19.
Anonymous. 1997. Trends in ischemic heart disease deaths - United States 1990. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 46: 146-150.
Bourne, L.T., Langenhoven, M.L., Steyn, K, Jooste, P.L., Nesamvuni, A.E. & Laubscher, J.A. 1994. The food and meal pattern in the urban African population of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa: the BRISK study. Central African Journal of Medicine, 40: 140-148.
Dean, M.P.G. St, Gear, J.S.S, 1986. Medical admissions to Hillbrow Hospital, Johannesburg, by discharge diagnosis. South African Medical Journal, 69: 672-673.
Editorial. 1973. The aged ailing African. Lancet, ii: 1472.
Ferreira, M., Mailer, V., Prinsloo, F.R. & Gillis, L.S. 1992. Multidimensional survey of elderly South Africans 1990-91: key findings. Cape Town: HSRC/UCT Centre for Gerontology.
Guralnik, J.M., Land, K.C., Blazer, D., Fillenbaum, G.G. & Branch, L.G. 1993. Educational status and active life expectancy among older blacks and whites. New England Journal of Medicine, 329: 110-116.
Kinsella, K. St Ferreira, M. 1997. Aging trends: South Africa. Washington, DC: US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census.
Labadarios, D., Walker, A.R.P., Blaauw, R. & Walker, B.F. 1996. Traditional diets and meal patterns in South Africa. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics, 79: 70-108.
McLigeyo, S.O. 1997. Successful ageing: an ideal developing countries should aim for. East African Medical Journal, 74: 605-606.
Parkin, D.M., Muir, C.S., Whelan, S.L., Gao, Y.T., Ferlay, J. & Powell, J. (Eds) 1992. Cancer incidence in five continents. Volume 6 (IARC Scientific Publication No. 120). Lyons: International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Richter, M.J.V., Langenhoven, M.L., Du Plessis, J.P., Ferreira, J.J., Swanepoel, A.S.P. & Jordaan, P.C.J. 1984. Nutritional value of diets in Blacks in Ciskei. South African Medical Journal, 65: 338-345.
Ryle, J.A. 1943. Social medicine: its meaning and its scope. British Medical Journal, 2: 633-636.
SALDRU. 1994. South Africans rich and poor: baseline household statistics. Cape Town: University of Cape Town.
Segal, I., Walker, A.R.P. & Parekh, D. 1994. Gastroenterology. In: Huddle, K. & Dubb, A. (Eds) Baragwanath Hospital: 50years - a medical miscellany. Johannesburg: Baragwanath Hospital, Department of Medicine, pp. 17-32.
Sitas, F., Blaauw, D., Terblanche, M., Madhoo, J. & Carrara, H. 1997. Cancer in South Africa, 1992. Johannesburg: South African Institute for Medical Research.
Solomon, L, 1979. Bone density in ageing Caucasian and African populations. Lancet, ii: 1326-1329.
Stevens, J., Keil, J.E., Rust, P.F., Tyroler, H.A., Davis, C.E. & Gazes, P.C. 1992. Body mass index and body girths as predictors of mortality in Black and White women. Archive of Internal Medicine, 152: 1257-1262.
Walker, A.R.P. 1974, Survival rate at middle age in developing and western populations. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 50: 29-32.
Walker, A.R.P. 1996. The nutritional challenges in the New South Africa. Nutrition Research Review, 9: 33-65. Walker, A.R.P. & Sarcli, P. 1997. Coronary heart disease: outlook for Africa. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 90: 23-27.
Walker, A.R.P., Walker, B.F., Dunn, M.J. & Dunn, S.E. 1994. Causes of admissions of rural African patients to Murchison Hospital, Natal, South Africa. Journal of the Royal Society of Health, 114: 33-38.
Walker, A.R.P., Walker, B.F., Manetsi, B., Tsotetsi, N.G. & Walker, A.J. 1990. Obesity in black women in Soweto, South Africa. Minimal effects of hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, and hyperglycaemia. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 110: 101-103.
Walker, A.R.P., Walker, B.F., Richardson, B.D. & Smith, P.J. 1972. Running performance in South African Bantu children with schistosomiasis. Tropical Geographical Medicine, 24: 347-352.
Walker, A.R.P., Walker, B.F. & Walker, A.J. 1992. Comparison of nutrient intakes of South African elderly rural Black women in 1969 and 1989. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 5: 169-177.
Wynder, E.L. & Kristein, M.M. 1977. Suppose we died young, late in life...? Journal of the American Medical Association, 238:1507.