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Bull Pan Am Health Organ. 1975;9(2):112-23.

Cultural perceptions and nutritional disorders: a Jamaican case study.


This case study brings out differences in the way protein-calorie malnutrition (PCM) in Jamaica is regarded by women who use medical services, women who do not, indigenous health practitioners, and trained health workers. The study reveals that women who utilize modern health clinics are able to identify appropriate techniques for reducing a child's susceptibility to PCM. But women who rely on indigenous medical services, as well as the actual providers of such services, frequently misdiagnose PCM as a "marasmi cold" and treat it as such. This treatment often involves actions which decrease the child's resistance to nutrition-related disorders. Both groups of women, and also the indigenous practitioners, provided more information about marasmus than about kwashiorkor, and often identified the latter as a form of robust good health. All of the mothers believed that improper prenatal and postnatal care would increase a child's susceptibility marasmus, although some mothers did not associate the condition with nutritional deficiency. These and other findings are used to recommend ways of organizing and disseminating information about PCM to the public at large. Such educational efforts should emphasize that food is a prime etiological and therapeutic factor, and that the quality and quantity of foods influence a child's susceptibility to PCM. Education programs, however, need not attempt to change indigenous practices which are neutral or harmless; ideas about PCM which parallel rather than conflict with traditional beliefs may stand the best chance of altering PCM incidence. It is also recommended that influential family members and native practitioners such as the nana be enlisted as local sources in the effort to provide health information about PCM.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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