Public Health Nutrition

Research Article

Why are rural Indian women so thin? Findings from a village in Maharashtra

GP Chorghadea1, M Barkera1 c1, S Kanadea2 and CHD Falla1

a1 MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, SO16 6YD, UK

a2 KEM Hospital Research Centre, TDH Building-3rd Floor, Rasta Peth, Pune – 411011, Maharashtra, India

Abstract

Objective To identify social, behavioural and cultural factors that explain the thinness of young women relative to their men in rural Maharashtra, India.

Design Twelve focus group discussions were conducted to explore the villagers' understanding of why women in their area might be thinner than men.

Setting Pabal village and surrounding hamlets, in the Pune district of Maharashtra, India.

Subjects Samples of young mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers were selected from families in the village with children below 10 years of age.

Results Four factors were identified that the villagers felt contributed to the disparity in thinness. First, marriage isolated girls from their own families and villages, and brought the expectation of early motherhood. Young brides were often unable to relax and eat adequately. Second, marriage increased the workload of young women. They were expected to do the heaviest household chores as well as farm work in this predominantly agricultural community. Third, women had no financial autonomy or freedom of movement, and were therefore denied access to supplementary food sources available to men. Fourth, young women felt responsible for their household's health and success. They were encouraged to fast regularly to ensure this. Despite feeling responsible, young women had no control over factors that might affect the household's well being. This made them anxious and worried a great deal of the time.

Conclusions Interventions to improve the nutritional status of young women in this region need to recognise the roles and responsibilities taken up by young brides.

(Received January 11 2005)

(Accepted May 18 2005)

Correspondence

c1 *Corresponding author: Email meb@mrc.soton.ac.uk

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