An Ethnography of Child Growth: socio-cultural context and meanings attached to child growth in southeastern Tanzania

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    Abstract

    Caregivers of under-fives have local knowledge about what child growth entails, yet their perspectives are not currently reflected in growth monitoring practices. Similarly, while children live in different socio-economic and cultural contexts, only information about children’s physical growth – i.e., their weight and height – is collected in assessing child growth. This also has consequences for how interventions are developed and evaluated. We conducted research in Tanzania to understand how caregivers conceptualize child growth, and to examine the familial/societal conditions that affect mothers’ abilities to ensure healthy growth. The caregivers’ definitions of child growth within their socio-cultural context are broader than just weight and height, as they use multiple cultural markers in ascertaining healthy growth. They perceive height as unrelated to nutrition, health, or overall growth; and shortness as a normal condition caused by God and/or heredity. The cultural signs that a child is short for his/her age include a mature face; poor weight; unhealthy skin/hair; abnormal thinness; inability to crawl, stand, or walk on schedule; not being cheerful or playful; and frequent illness. The parents’ failure to adhere to postpartum sexual abstinence norms was considered a cause of poor growth and development among children. The mothers’ abilities to ensure healthy growth in their children were limited by unequal gendered norms and structures. These findings point to the importance of giving caregivers a voice in their localities, taking into account the meanings they give to aspects of child growth, and updating the available framework to be more respectful of these local concepts.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    Supervisors/Advisors
    • Haisma, Hinke, Supervisor
    • Bailey, Ajay, Supervisor
    Award date27-May-2021
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Publisher
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2021

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