The importance of household relationships for Nepali women’s access to high-quality food

Women in South Asia have some of the poorest nutritional indicators globally, which can lead to poor maternal and child health outcomes. Previous studies have shown that women in South Asia, including Nepal, often receive less and lower-quality food than men. Nutrition is especially important in early marriage for women in Nepal as nearly half are pregnant within the first year of their marriage. Poor nutrition prior to pregnancy has been associated with adverse maternal and child health outcomes including miscarriage, preeclampsia, low birth weight, still birth, and more. 

Leafy greens

It is common for women in Nepal to live with their husbands’ parents. Earlier studies have found to be a risk factor for low BMI as newly married women are at the lowest status in their households and therefore often eat last, leaving them less to eat. Little is known about how the transition from their parents’ home to living with their husband’s family impacts food consumption. New research from Bixby member Nadia Diamond-Smith, PhD, MSc explores this comparison, as well as how the quality of relationships with husbands and mothers-in-laws impacts the amount of high-quality food newly married women eat.

Researchers surveyed 200 women in the Nawalparasi district of Nepal. Women were between 18-25 years old, had been married within the last 4 months, and were currently living with their mother-in-law. Researchers found that a large percentage of these women had low consumption of high-quality foods, such as leafy greens, fruit, and meat and dairy protein. They were eating less of these foods important for pregnancy in their marital home compare to the home where they grew up. This is likely due to household socio-cultural practices around order of food consumption.

Researchers also found that having a better relationship with one’s mother-in-law influenced the association between household-level food insecurity and eating less high-quality foods, but relationship quality with husbands had no impact. This suggests that interventions should focus on improving household relationships, specifically with mothers-in-law, as a means to increase newly married women’s access to high-quality foods that can ultimately lead to better outcomes for their health and the health of their future children.