Culture and feeding practices: major underlying causes of childhood malnutrition in developing countries

Olasupo P. Ogunjuyigbe, Obafemi Awolowo University
Ebenezer Ojofeitimi, Obafemi Awolowo University

This paper examines the prevailing cultural practices that lead to poor infant growth and poor maternal and lactating mothers’ nutritional status in sub-Saharan African region (SSAR). The paper reveals that SSAR has the highest maternal, infant and under five mortality rates and protein energy malnutrition (PEM). None of the countries in this region has made any remarkable improvement in reducing these mortality rates and PEM. Contrary to previous and recent investigations that ignorance and poverty are the two major etiologies of PEM and poor growth in SSAR, cultural food habits and infant feeding practices have been identified as major causes of childhood malnutrition. For instance, from cultural point of view, among some major ethnic groups, the concept of healthy child is taking to mean ‘fat baby’. In view of this, food items that are believed will increase the size and weight of the baby such as cassava, maize and yam flour are considered good. Because of traditional cultural food practices, legumes and oil seeds such as beans, groundnuts and mellon seeds are sparingly consumed. Nursing mothers in most of the countries in the region have not been making use of existing local food sources as complementary feeds not because of poverty but traditional beliefs and cultural food practices. Unfortunately, the unrestricted and longer duration of breastfeeding that protects infants from early onset of kwashiorkor, strictly adhered to in the past has drastically reduced mainly because of nursing mothers’ need to augment family income. The paper recognized that PEM could be prevented in SSAR when food habits are modified or changed. Pregnant and nursing mothers could be encouraged to consume and feed their growing infants with locally available foodstuffs that are cheap and highly nutritious.

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Presented in Poster Session 1