To identify social, behavioural and cultural factors that explain the thinness of young women relative to their men in rural Maharashtra, India.
Twelve focus group discussions were conducted to explore the villagers' understanding of why women in their area might be thinner than men.
Pabal village and surrounding hamlets, in the Pune district of Maharashtra, India.
Samples of young mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers were selected from families in the village with children below 10 years of age.
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.
Interventions to improve the nutritional status of young women in this region need to recognise the roles and responsibilities taken up by young brides.
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