The lack of dietary diversity is a severe problem experienced by most poor households globally. In particular; women of reproductive age (WRA) are at high risk of inadequate intake of micronutrients resulting from diets dominated by starchy staples. The present study considered the diets, dietary diversity, and food security of women aged 15–49 years along the rural-urban continuum in three South African towns situated along an agro-ecological gradient. A 48 h dietary recall was conducted across two seasons with 554 women from rural, peri-urban, and urban locations of Richards Bay, Dundee, and Harrismith. Minimum Dietary Diversity for WRA (MDD-W) were calculated and a dichotomous indicator based on a set of ten food groups was used to determine if women had consumed at least five food groups the previous 48 h to achieve minimum dietary intake for women. The mean (±sd) MDD-W for Richards Bay (3.78 ± 0.07) was significantly higher than at Dundee (3.21 ± 0.08) and Harrismith (3.36 ± 0.07). Food security and MDD-W were significantly higher in urban locations than in peri-urban or rural ones. There was lower dependence on food purchasing in Richards Bay compared to Dundee and Harrismith. The majority of women in Richards Bay practiced subsistence agriculture, produced a surplus for sale, and collected wild foods which improved dietary intake and food security. The peri-urban populations had limited dietary intake and were more food insecure because of high levels of poverty, unemployment, and lack of land. Peri-urban dwellers are therefore more sensitive to changes in incomes and food prices because they lack safety nets to absorb income or price shocks as they purchase more, rather than growing their own food. This compromises dietary diversity as they have limited access to diverse foods.
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