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Soc Sci Med. 2009 Jul;69(2):285-92. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.05.016. Epub 2009 Jun 6.

Who feeds children? A child's-eye-view of caregiver feeding patterns among the Aka foragers in Congo.

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  • 1University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-1912, United States. hfouts@utk.edu

Abstract

This study describes the contributions of various types of caregivers to the direct provisioning and feeding of Aka children in households reliant on foraging in Congo. Ecological and family factors that predict allomaternal caregiving (i.e., caregiving by individuals other than mothers) are identified and discussed in light of current anthropological and public health perspectives on child feeding and cooperative caregiving. The study is based on 8 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Republic of Congo in 2004 and 2005, and utilizes naturalistic observations of 22 focal children between two and four years of age. Observations spanned 12 daylight hours spread out over three different days. The results of this study demonstrate that even though mothers were the single highest contributor to child feeding, combined allomaternal contributions (i.e., contributions by fathers, grandmothers, aunts, siblings, and cousins) to child feeding was higher than that of mothers. Furthermore, birth order and the transition in families to having a new infant predicted allomaternal contributions. These results reinforce the need to extend public health and nutrition education programs to target more than just parents, as other individuals may have substantial influence over child feeding patterns. Furthermore, these results exemplify a cooperative child rearing pattern that is consistent with behavioral ecology perspectives that have suggested that humans evolved as cooperative childrearers rather than as maternal-centric or parent-only childrearers. Lastly, individual child and family characteristics predicted allomaternal contributions to child feeding and therefore research and public health initiatives need to consider variation in child and family characteristics in order to accurately describe and serve populations throughout the world.

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