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Soc Sci Med. 1997 Jun;44(11):1697-709.

Food allocation in rural Peruvian households: concepts and behavior regarding children.

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Department of Anthropology, San Jose State University, CA 95192-0113, USA.


Intrahousehold food allocation is an important determinant of child health and survival. In this paper I explore the ways in which food is distributed to young children in Ura Ayllu, a farming community located in the southern Peruvian highlands (Province of Sandia, Department of Puno, Peru). Quantitative data on energy intake and growth status are analyzed for two groups of children: toddlers (one through three years) and preschoolers (four through six years). The analyses indicate no gender differences in energy intake or growth among toddlers (one through three years) and preschoolers (four through six years) and that young children do not appear to be deprived of food relative to older household members, especially adults. Relative to standards specific to Andean populations, the mean caloric content of the toddler diet falls slightly below the estimated requirement for the age group while the preschooler diet is found to be calorically adequate. This paper also examines the ideological bases that shape food allocation within households. Regarding the local concepts and cultural rules that guide food allocation to children, Ura Ayllinos view young children as developmentally immature and believe their dietary and health needs are different from those of older children and adults. Infants and young children are considered weak (debil) and vulnerable to illness. Parents state that young children should not feel hunger which is thought to weaken a person and make him more susceptible to the natural and supernatural agents that cause illness. Certain dietary practices, such as on-demand breastfeeding and snacking between meals, suggest that parents try to avoid the experience of hunger and the potential for illness by making food available to their children. This study suggests that young Ura Ayllu children are viewed as having a right to food based on local concepts of child development, personhood, and general health maintenance.

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