Identifying the sociocultural barriers and facilitating factors to nutrition-related behavior change: Formative research for a stunting prevention program in Ntchisi, Malawi

Stephen Kodish, Nancy Aburto, Mutinta Nseluke Hambayi, Caitlin Kennedy, Joel Gittelsohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: As the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement gains momentum globally, more attention and resources are being given to integrated nutrition interventions. In 2013, the Government of Malawi, with support from the World Food Programme and partners, initiated such an intervention in Ntchisi District. Aimed to reduce the prevalence of stunting, the intervention has several components, including the provision of a small-quantity, lipid-based nutrient supplement (SQ-LNS) for children aged 6 to 23 months. Objective: This paper describes formative research findings derived from a Rapid Assessment Procedures (RAP) approach to inform the integrated nutrition intervention. Methods: With a three-phase, emergent research design, this study utilized ethnographic methods including in-depth interviews, direct meal observations, and full-day child observations. Free lists and pile sorts were conducted to define food and illness domains through cultural domain analysis. Participants included community leaders, caregivers, health surveillance assistants, and children aged 6 to 23 months. Results: Community members felt that nutrition-related illnesses were less salient and threatening than other illnesses, and food quality was less important than food quantity. Household food allocation occurred in predictable patterns and varied by type of household member and season. Considered an energy-giving food, the SQ-LNS was accepted, but health education and communications tailored to local understanding of nutrition and health are necessary to ensure its appropriate utilization. Conclusions: Tailoring a communications strategy to Ntchisi, Malawi could only be done through formative research to understand the sociocultural factors influencing nutrition-related behaviors. A RAP approach allowed for a comprehensive understanding of this local environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)138-153
Number of pages16
JournalFood and nutrition bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015



  • Ethnographic methods
  • Formative research
  • Lipid-based nutrient supplement (SQ-LNS)
  • Malawi
  • Prevention of stunting
  • Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement
  • Small-quantity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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