A Profile of the risk factors for non-communicable disease among University of Cape Town Staff

A Profile of the risk factors for non-communicable disease among University of Cape Town Staff – written by Alexandra Royal


Background: Non-communicable disease (NCD) is emerging as a major cause of morbidity and mortality associated with devastating social and economic consequences that are amplified in developing countries such as South Africa. The high burden of disease is distressing considering the primary cause can be prevented by altering modifiable risk factors. Therefore it is vital that NCD risk factors be profiled in order to optimally direct health promotion initiatives.

Methods: UCT staff members (n=135) attending an annual health screening participated in this study. Intermediate risk factors (BMI, waist circumference, blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure) were measured by trained nurses. Modifiable risk factors (diet, physical activity, tobacco usage and alcohol consumption) and readiness to change were self-reported and collated on a structured questionnaire.

Results: Majority of the participants were female and “white-collar” employees. Overall dietary intake was poor compared to the Food Based Dietary Guidelines. On the other hand total physical activity was sufficient (≥150 min/week), however sedentary behaviour contributed to 60% of their waking time. The prevalence of smoking was low (20%) while drinking was reported in half of the sample. Intermediate risk factors were all high except blood glucose and waist circumference in males. In general females, specifically those ≥45 years had higher intermediate risk factors. Significant positive correlations were found between diastolic blood pressure and the intake of salt and protein and blood glucose was negatively correlated with fibre. Alcohol consumption was significantly associated with lower BMI and waist circumference and higher cholesterol. The participants were classified as being in the contemplation and action stages of change.

Conclusion: The increased prevalence of modifiable risk factors places the UCT staff at increased risk for NCD. This highlights the needs for targeted worksite health promotion initiatives, focusing on increasing awareness on the importance of healthy diet and leisure time physical activity as well as reducing smoking and excessive drinking should be the main components. As well as modifying the environment (healthy food options and opportunities for leisure time physical activity) making it more conducive to adopting and maintaining health behaviours.

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