The role diet plays in good health is not pure clinical science, but working with social scientists helps understand the cultural norms and treatments surrounding certain conditions.
Well-known anthropologist Francis Akindes conducted a study in Cote d’Ivoire, to better comprehend nutritional practices related to young children and the prevalence of anaemia in the country.
Iron deficiency is much more serious in the west African country, where 50% of children younger than five years are iron deficient vs 11% of South African children
. Although the severity of anaemia is aggravated by infectious diseases like malaria and parasitosis, the role diet plays in contributing to the condition cannot be denied.
“We wanted to understand who is influencing a mother’s choices regarding their children’s diet. As iron fortification was important to address anaemia in this market; it was critical to understand the mom’s basic comprehension and perceptions of this condition,” says Marine Domet, head of Africa nutrition at Danone, the company that sponsored the research.
Grandmothers, doctors and also the husbands influence when mothers stop breast feeding and what they feed their children, with the trade-off being some mothers wean their children and start them on soft porridge very early on. Also, although they don’t link diet with anaemia; they can identify the symptoms such as fever, pale colour, lack of muscle tone and low appetite levels.
Some peculiar findings were the "traditional" treatments, such as the link to red and blood, and the use of bissap leaves (which are used as a colourant), carbonated cold drinks that are retailed in red cans and tomato sauce.
A key step was to engage with healthcare professionals to address some of the myths associated with treating anaemia and to encourage mothers to breast feed for longer to protect the health of their children, she concludes.