Exploring women’s and young children’s eating practices

Between September and November 2018, Iram, a MERIEM project partner, conducted a qualitative study in Ouagadougou, Niamey and Bamako to explore eating practices among women of childbearing age and children aged between 6 and 24 months.

Multi-faceted malnutrition

The study highlights the multi-faceted nature of malnutrition in cities in the Sahel. Undernutrition leads to delayed development in children and poor health, which is passed on from one generation to the next and contributes to the vicious circle of illness-poverty-malnutrition. But undernutrition is not the only challenge in the Sahel: overnutrition and the disorders associated with it are a major priority in cities. A taste for fried foods, sweetened drinks from an early age, sedentary lifestyles, snacking…  The study highlights – particularly in Bamako – eating practices that explain the emergence of malnutrition due to excess in urban areas.

Taste, prices, the opinion of fathers, availability of products, advertising: these are all deciding factors in families’ food and nutritional choices, which have a high impact on the quality of their nutrition.

Analysis of demand for women and very young children

Porridge is the most common meal for babies aged 6-12 months, but it is not always fortified to meet the nutritional needs of children and is often served “on request”. Snacking is a part of regular feeding practices for very young children.

Mothers of young children usually eat meals at home with their families. Girls and women students mostly have lunch outside of the home. Breakfast is often neglected or taken later in the morning: a practice that can contribute to anaemia in young girls. When women are pregnant, they benefit from increased attention from their husbands, who worry about what they eat with a view to good health for mother and child.

The MERIEM project must take these eating habits into account to propose products that appeal to urban consumers, while at the same time improving the nutritional health of women and young children in Sahelian cities.