Senegalese grandmothers promote improved maternal and child nutrition practices: the guardians of tradition are not averse to change

Soc Sci Med. 2004 Sep;59(5):945-59. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2003.11.044.


The vast majority of community nutrition/health programs in developing countries focus on women of reproductive age (WRA) and a few explicitly involve senior women, or grandmothers. In Senegal, as in many other places, older, experienced women play an influential role in household maternal and child health (MCH) matters. Formative research in Serer villages revealed their importance and this was taken into account in an action research nutrition education (NE) project in which grandmothers were encouraged to promote improved nutritional practices related to pregnancy (e.g. decreased work and improved diet) and infant feeding (e.g. breastfeeding and complementary feeding). A participatory communication/empowerment education approach was used involving songs, stories and group discussion. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected to both document and evaluate the intervention. Triangulation of the evaluation data suggests that 12 months after the intervention was initiated there were significant improvements in grandmothers' nutritional knowledge, in their advice to WRA, and in the nutrition-related practices of these younger women associated both with pregnancy and infant feeding. For example, in the pre-test only 20% of grandmothers stated that they advise pregnant women to decrease their workload whereas in the post-test 87% reported giving this advice. At the same time, 91% of WRA in villages with the grandmother strategy reported having decreased their workload during their last pregnancy whereas in villages with NE activities for WRA but not with grandmothers, only 34% of younger women reported having done so. These findings provide evidence of grandmothers' ability to learn, to integrate new information into their practices and to positively influence the practices of WRA. These results support the need for future MCH programs, in different cultural contexts, to involve grandmothers and in so doing to build on their intrinsic commitment to family well-being.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child Health Services
  • Child Welfare*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Family Relations*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Maternal Health Services
  • Maternal Welfare*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Senegal