Food habits and the nutritional status of pre-schoolers: a comparison between urban and rural Kikuyu households of Central province - Kenya
Kibuga, Jane Mumbi
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This study was a comparative survey of food habits and nutritional status of pre-school children in Kikuyu households of Central province, Kenya. (These children will henceforth be referred to as pre-schoolers). The main objectives of this study were to find out factors influencing the nutritional status of children in these households. Data were provided through anthropometrics measurements of the children’s, mother's interview schedule and household observation. The study samples consisted of: Urban Kikuyu household belonging to low salaried junior workers of Kenyatta University and residing in estates in Kiambu District, Central Province; and a rural sample consisting of Kikuyu households belonging to mothers whose children went to St. Michael pre-school in Kiganjo, Nyeri District. Kiganjo is a mid-potential area agriculturally. All the pre-school children studied were between two and seven years of age and had been completely weaned from the breast. Every child who fell in this category was identified through a list of names obtained from heads of departments and teachers in the two study areas. In total, 73 households (37 rural and 36 urban) were included in this study. Descriptive and inferential statistics were used. According to the findings, the variables that jointly or individually made important contributions to food habits and nutritional status include: number of main meals, feeding method, length of urban residence, child's age group, mother's care, persistent sickness, mother's age group, marital status, birth interval ration and clinic attendance. Generally, a higher nutritional status was evident among urban pre-schoolers than among their rural counterparts. At the same time, the younger children (24-48 months) were found to be in better nutritional status than the older children (49 - 73+ months). Weight for height and height for age indicators revealed that children suffered from both acute and chronic malnutrition. The foods most rarely given to pre-schoolers were traditional foods, namely: fermented porridge, pigeon peas, cowpeas, njahi (bean bonavist) and traditional vegetables. These foods were even more rare among urban residents. While this was so, sorghum/millet which were both traditional cereals were found to be popular foods in both rural and urban settings. While most mothers had basic knowledge on food groups, this did not seem to positively influence the nutritional status of their children. Mothers, who had a higher level of formal education, above primary level, were found to be less aware of how to manage diarrhoea. It was the mother's attitude rather than her practice or knowledge with regard to nutrition that significantly influenced the child's intake of certain foods, fermented porridge being the best example. Several recommendations were made. Among them the researcher suggested promotion of cheap, yet nutritious snacks for pre-school children within the school premises. It is therefore necessary that more parents are encouraged to start school feeding programs on "harambee" basis (voluntary joint effort to contribute finances materials and labour). Porridge made from a mixture of sorghum and millet and possibly enriched with milk would be a good 10 O'clock snack. Advertising through mass media and other avenues may go a long way in encouraging consumption of nutritious yet cheaper traditional foods. With the introduction of the 8-4-4 system of education, curriculum developers can now encourage the more practical education that future parents need. Fora where people in different disciplines, such as agricultural officers and nutritionists exchange ideas on ways of improving eating habits were recommended.