How do children perceive health to be affected by domestic water carrying? Qualitative findings from a mixed methods study in rural South Africa

Child Care Health Dev. 2010 Nov;36(6):818-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2214.2010.01098.x.


Background: Nearly 50% of South African children lack access to clean safe water and many regularly carry water loads. The health effects of carrying water have not been well researched or considered when estimating the burden of disease due to suboptimal water supply. Improved access to safe water has potential to create important health and economic benefits, by reducing childhood exposure to risk factors for injury or disease. The aim of this study was to identify which domains of health children perceive as affected by water carrying.

Methods: Qualitative research was used within a broader mixed methods design to investigate children's perceptions about health and water carrying in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Qualitative data from eight semi-structured interviews and three 'natural group meetings', involving a sample of 30 children, were analysed using the framework approach of Ritchie and Spencer. The results were mapped to the International Classification of Functioning Disability and Health (ICF).

Results: Children broadly conceptualize and describe health to include the functions they perform and activities in which they participate. They perceived water carrying as impacting upon health in various ways, for example to make life better by facilitating water usage, or to make life worse through accidents and pain. Children's accounts demonstrate that they can identify and explain complex interactions between activities, participation and health.

Conclusions: The ICF framework facilitates the communication of children's perceptions of health and of relationships between health and water carrying. The model thus derived from their views incorporates not only commonly accepted conceptualizations of health condition, body structure and physiological function, but also of functioning through activities and social participation. Children's accounts suggest a possible association between water carrying and symptoms typical of musculoskeletal disorders. However, further research into the strength of association between water carrying and musculoskeletal disorders is needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Lifting / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / etiology
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / psychology*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Rural Health
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Social Environment
  • South Africa
  • Water
  • Water Supply*
  • Weight-Bearing / physiology*


  • Water