Background/objective: Although gender inequality in nutritional status has been consistently reported in several parts of South Asia, in sub-Sahara Africa there is a paucity of data and conflicting conclusions. We conducted a study to assess if gender inequality in food intake and nutritional status is present in rural Eastern Kenya.
Subjects/methods: This was a descriptive cross sectional study conducted in the Mwingi and Makueni districts of Ukambani region in Eastern Kenya, two rural districts where grains are the main contributor of energy intake. There were 629 children aged <60 months, randomly selected for participation in the study.
Results: Boys consistently had higher energy intakes than girls (P = 0.005). More girls were stunted, underweight and wasted 51.7%, (49.9-53.5), 32.1%, (30.4-33.7), 4.6%, (3.9-5.4) than boys 35.9% (34.2-37.7), 14.6% (13.4-15.9) and 1.2% (0.8-1.6), respectively, P < 0.001. Of the total, 24.6% (23.1-26.2) of the girls were severely stunted compared with boys 16.3% (15.0-17.7). Boys had higher Z-score indices (height-for-age (HAZ) = -1.33 ± 1.86, weight-for-age (WAZ) = -0.60 ± 1.53 and weight-for-height (WHZ) = 0.25 ± 1.23) than girls (HAZ = -2.02 ± 1.94, WAZ = -1.37 ± 1.27 and WHZ = -0.10 ± 1.49), all P < 0.001.
Conclusions: The prevalence of malnutrition among children in rural Eastern Kenya is sizable. However, girls were more stunted, underweight and wasted than boys at all age categories due to their consistent lower food intake. Further research is needed to expose the social and cultural determinants underlying gender discrimination in intra-household allocation of food.