Health Column

Include men in household nutrition practices

“Good Nutrition is Everyone’s Responsibility”

What are men’s roles in the household? Do you think it is appropriate for a man to learn how to prepare food, feed the baby, or go shopping?  Overtime, men have not fully embraced household nutrition practices. Most often, a majority of men have exercised superiority to women when it comes to the normal household nutrition practices. This has been influenced by peer pressure from other men, cultural beliefs, fear of stigma, and most men conform because of the indwelling fear of being labelled ‘Weaklings’. Men consider themselves responsible for food provision at the household. They believe good health and nutrition are essential to being strong and productive. Most consider that they play a pivotal role in supporting their children’s education and development. Some men are however rarely interested in food preparation or the intricacies of food distribution, supporting expectant and lactating mothers since they view these activities as a woman’s domain.

 In a study to assess the determinants of dietary diversity and the potential role of men in improving household nutrition in Kenya, it was found that men benefit more than women and children in diet diversity. This was because men often eat lunch and sometimes dinner away from home, increasing their chances of consuming other food items not usually available in their household. Other project based observations show that men rarely participate in household nutrition decisions leaving this task to their wives, leaving most women and children with smaller food portions and less nutritious meals compared. Paradoxically, most interventions still focus on women neglecting the role of men in improving the household nutrition status.

Including men in nutrition activities and discussions has helped them recognize the importance of providing nutritious food to their families and increasing their participation in household chores related to childcare and feeding. A study done in rural Uganda to determine effects of male involvement on the Nutritional Status of Children under 5 Years showed that families, whose husband took the baby to the clinic, and participated in purchasing family food had babies with a normal weight. It is important to move beyond interventions that focus on individual responsibility for securing nutritious food because men are ingrained in wider structures that condition their behavior. Men need tremendous support and inclusion as they confront and question the cultures at home, in the community, at work, and those presented by the media, which shape their psychological and social identities.

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