Kismul H, Hatløy A, Andersen P, Mapatano M, Van den Broeck J, Moland KM.

Int J Equity Health. 2015 May 19;14(1):47. doi: 10.1186/s12939-015-0175-x.



The magnitude of child malnutrition including severe child malnutrition is especially high in the rural areas of the Democratic Republicof Congo (the DRC). The aim of this qualitative study is to describe the social context of malnutrition in a rural part of the DRC and explore how some households succeed in ensuring that their children are well-nourished while others do not.


This study is based on participant observation, key informant interviews, group discussions and in-depth interviews with four households with malnourished children and four with well-nourished children. We apply social field theory to link individual childnutritional outcomes to processes at local level and to the wider socio-economic environment.


We identified four social fields that have implications for food security and child nutritional outcomes: 1) household size and composition which determined vulnerability to child malnutrition, 2) inter-household cooperation in the form of ‘gbisa work party’ which buffered scarcity of labour in peak seasons and facilitated capital accumulation, 3) the village associated with usufruct rights to land, and 4) the local NGO providing access to agricultural support, clean drinking water and health care.


Households that participated in inter-household cooperation were able to improve food and nutrition security. Children living in households with high pressure on productive members were at danger of food insecurity and malnutrition. Nutrition interventions need to involve local institutions for inter-household cooperation and address the problem of social inequalities in service provision. They should have special focus on households with few resources in the form of land, labour and capital.

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