Perceptions of body size and its association with HIV/AIDS

  • Thandi Puoane University of the Western Cape
  • Tandiwe Matoti-Mvalo Diva Nutritional Products
Keywords: Obesity, Thinness, Black women, Body image, Ideal body weight, actual body weight, perceived ideal body weight, HIV/AIDS stigma, Cardiovascular disease


Objective: To explore the perception among black South African women that people who are thin are infected with HIV or have AIDS. Setting: Khayelitsha, an urban township in Cape Town. Subjects: 513 women aged 18-65 years. Methods: This was an exploratory study employing both quantitative and qualitative research methodology. Data were collected in two phases. The first phase involved collecting quantitative data among 513 participants. During the second phase, qualitative data were collected in a purposely selected sub-sample of 20 women. For the qualitative data collection, participants were shown eight body figures, ranging from thin to obese, and asked to choose a figure representing the ideal figure, a preferred figure and a figure thought to symbolise health. They were also invited to choose a figure that they thought represented a person infected with HIV or who had AIDS. They had the option of saying that they did not associate any of the figures with people infected with HIV or who had AIDS. Weight and height measurements were also taken. After the quantitative analysis was completed, focus group discussions explored perceptions about body image and the relation to HIV among purposely selected participants. Data were summarised by content based on questions discussed. Results: Sixty-nine per cent of the participants associated a thin figure with a person infected with HIV, or who had AIDS. Only 10.2% thought the thin figure symbolised health. Fifty per cent preferred a normal-weight figure, while 34.2% thought that normal weight symbolised health. Only 2% thought that people in the normal-weight category were infected with HIV or had AIDS.Thirty-four per cent preferred to be overweight and 31% thought that being overweight symbolised health. None of the participants thought the overweight figure represented people infected with HIV or who had AIDS. Only 8% preferred the obese figure. The results of the qualitative data analysis suggested that participants preferred to be overweight and at risk of acquiring cardiovascular diseases, rather than being thin and stigmatised as a person infected with HIV or who had AIDS. Conclusion: This study revealed that the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS may undermine strategies for prevention of chronic noncommunicable diseases among urban black South African women.

Author Biographies

Thandi Puoane, University of the Western Cape
School of Public health University of the Western Cape
Tandiwe Matoti-Mvalo, Diva Nutritional Products
RD (SA), MPH Dietetics Manager Diva Nutritional Products
How to Cite
Puoane, T., & Matoti-Mvalo, T. (2011). Perceptions of body size and its association with HIV/AIDS. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 24(1), 40-45. Retrieved from
Original Research