Identifying cultural representations of families and the health team to improve the management of severe malnutrition in childhood

Qual Health Res. 2010 Apr;20(4):524-30. doi: 10.1177/1049732310361465. Epub 2010 Feb 10.


Severe childhood malnutrition is no longer a priority in Latin America, but mortality of hospitalized malnourished children continues to be high, especially in Bolivia. The objective of the present study was to identify cultural representations in mothers and in health personnel that might influence the relationship between the family and the provider's health care services, thus affecting the treatment of malnourished children. We applied a flexible qualitative model of cases and controls (mothers or caregivers of both under- and well-nourished children), and in addition, health personnel. Results were analyzed following semiotics of statements. Mothers and health professionals based their cultural representations on different conceptions of health. The mothers' mindset indicated that traditional Andean medicine and public health systems are complementary and not contradictory. Conversely, health personnel expressed a univocal vision, accepting only biomedicine. Furthermore, they also expressed a negative attitude toward mothers of severely malnourished children. Results should be considered to improve ongoing local health programs.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bolivia
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / ethnology*
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / therapy*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Culture*
  • Family*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Patient Care Team*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Young Adult