Child feeding and care behaviors are associated with xerophthalmia in rural Nepalese households

Joel Gittelsohn, Anita V. Shankar, Keith P. West, Faisal Faruque, Tara Gnywali, Elizabeth K. Pradhan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study examined caregiver-child interactions, intrahousehold food allocation and general child care behaviors and their effect on children's xerophthalmia status in the rural Terai region of Nepal. Seventy-eight households with a child having a history of xerophthalmia (cases) were matched with 78 households with a child of the same age having no history of xerophthalmia (controls). Seven day-long continuous monitoring observations were performed in each household (over 15 months) by trained Nepali observers, focusing on feeding and care of a focus child and his/her younger sibling. Nineteen different behavioral variables were operationalized, including serving method, second helpings, serving refusals, encouragement to eat, request intensity, meal serving order, food channeling, food sharing, positive social behaviors, negative social behaviors, and positive health behaviors. Automatic serving and request intensity were strongly negatively correlated, especially among younger siblings. Children who serve themselves receive less encouragement to eat. Those children who are refused in their requests for food tend to ask for food more frequently, for a longer time, and be less likely to self-serve. Children who eat from a shared plate are less likely to interact with a food server and more likely to self-serve. Negative social behavior towards children is associated with the child having to request food more frequently and a greater likelihood of being refused food. Children who receive positive health care from their caregivers are also more frequently asked if they would like food by the server and are encouraged to eat. Several caregiver-child feeding behaviors were related to a child's risk of having past vitamin A deficiency. Controls were much more likely to be served food automatically. Cases were more likely to serve themselves food and have multiple servings of food. Cases were nearly two times more likely than controls to be treated with neglect or harshly, and much less likely than controls to have their health needs receive attention. Examining intrahousehold behavior is critical for understanding the causes of vitamin A deficiency in rural Nepalese children, and has great potential for identifying and improving interventions to improve children's diets and care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)477-486
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 16 1998


  • Child care
  • Child feeding
  • Household behaviors
  • Nepal
  • Xerophthalmia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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