REDUCING MALNUTRITION IN WOMEN AND YOUNG CHILDREN
THROUGH DIETARY COUNSELLING
Globally, the prevalence of malnutrition is constantly increasing. Providing dietary counselling to vulnerable groups including women of reproductive age and young children aids in preventing malnutrition. Dietary counselling is vital to improving nutritional status of both women and young children. The photographic food atlas that was validated within the InnoFoodAfrica project (IFA) and used in the Food Consumption Survey conducted in Work Package 2 would be a beneficial additional tool during provision of dietary counselling to women of reproductive age. Therefore, I wanted to understand the role of dietary counselling in reducing malnutrition in women of reproductive age (15-49 years) in Nairobi City, Kenya. I did the study as part of my master’s thesis in 2021, at the Kahawa West public Health Center in Nairobi County. This health center was selected for my study as it also collaborated in the IFA Food Consumption Survey. I used a thematic analysis approach and interviewed health care workers working in different clinics within the health center (Key Informants) on issues relating to how dietary counselling is provided to mothers, teaching aids used in dietary counselling, challenges faced when offering counselling to women and views on how dietary counselling may be improved.
Dietary information promotes good nutrition
My interviews established that majority of women attending the public owned healthcare facility in Nairobi are either poorly educated or lack sufficient knowledge on nutrition issues. This intensifies the importance of offering dietary information to all women of reproductive age. Dietary counselling improves mothers’ knowledge about different food groups, and different methods of mixing these food groups to ensure healthy diets. Information on food groups offered during dietary counselling is based on the Kenyan Ministry of Health recommendations. Women are counselled on the importance of utilizing locally available and affordable foods to enhance their nutritional status. The application of the photographic food atlas as an additional reference and teaching material in dietary counselling of women of reproductive age was thought to be advantageous in several ways. The Key Informants found the use of pictures important in enhancing memory, retaining information and increasing understanding in mothers receiving dietary counselling. Food atlas could be also practical in saving time, reducing language barriers and may be used in measuring food portions consumed by individuals suffering from or at risk of malnutrition related problems including diabetics.
Challenges in improving nutrition and future considerations
The Key informants highlighted in the interviews that constraints in availability of resources including time, space, staff and nutrition supplements affect the quality of dietary counselling and the amount of information provided during counselling. The mother’s attitude, cultural beliefs and traditions, poverty, alcoholism and psychological issues create challenges in offering dietary counselling. As a solution, the Key Informants saw that training of health workers on basic nutrition, offering incentives to women, ensuring follow up of women and children in the community as well as establishing support groups may all boost the uptake and provision of dietary counselling. Further, providing vital resources to public healthcare facilities to implement these actions is important.
In the future, it would be interesting to study the extent to which a photographic food atlas may motivate women and young children to modify their dietary habits in the management of nutrition-related diseases. This would aid evaluating the importance of including a photographic food atlas in dietary counselling of women and young children.
The full version of my thesis is openly accessible through the following link: https://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:amk-2022060615899