Improving the nutritional status of infants and young children in developing countries depends to a significant extent on adoption of optimal nutrition-related practices within the context of the household. Most policies, research and programmes on child nutrition in non-Western societies focus narrowly on the mother-child dyad and fail to consider the wider household and community environments in which other actors, hierarchical patterns of authority and informal communication networks operate and influence such practices. In particular, the role and influence of senior women, or grandmothers, has received limited attention. Research dealing with child nutrition from numerous socio-cultural settings in Africa, Asia and Latin America reveals three common patterns related to the social dynamics and decision-making within households and communities. First, grandmothers play a central role as advisers to younger women and as caregivers of both women and children on nutrition and health issues. Second, grandmother social networks exercise collective influence on maternal and child nutrition-related practices, specifically regarding pregnancy, feeding and care of infants, young children and sick children. Third, men play a relatively limited role in day-to-day child nutrition within family systems. The research reviewed supports the need to re-conceptualize the parameters considered in nutritional policies and programmes by expanding the focus beyond the mother-child dyad to include grandmothers given their role as culturally designated advisers and caregivers.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.