Men being more active in health and nutrition can have long-lasting benefits for their partners and children, new research has shown.
Southampton researchers were part of an international team that spoke to men in sub-Saharan Africa. They explored how they could be more involved in the health and nutrition of their partners and children.
They found men wanted to take part more but were prevented by stigma and perceived gender roles.
The results reinforce the importance of gender equality in maternal and child health.
The study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). Researchers have published their findings in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health.
Crucial first 1,000 days
Pregnancy and early childhood are a critical period of growth and development. They can have long-lasting effects on families’ health and well-being.
Researchers from the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton are studying these first 1,000 days after conception.
This latest study interviewed men in Burkina Faso, Ghana, and South Africa. They were asked what motivated and restricted them from being involved in their family’s health.
Dr Polly Hardy-Johnson, senior author for the study, said: “In sub-Saharan Africa and across the globe, gender and social norms may mean many men have little engagement with maternal and child health and nutrition.
“If men are more involved, it can have a range of benefits. These include improving the neurodevelopment of medically at-risk infants and reducing the frequency of postnatal depression.”
‘Providers and advisors’
Prof Keith Godfrey, Professor of Epidemiology & Human Development and Nutrition, Lifestyle and Metabolism lead at the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, said:
“Our research revealed that men see themselves as largely providers and advisors within their families. This was common in both rural and urban settings. But they were keen to be more involved in their family’s health and nutrition. Similarly their partners said they would like men to be more involved in family life.
“By challenging gender roles and gender health inequalities, we may be able to improve maternal and child health and nutrition.”
Prof Shane Norris, Professor of Global Health, added:
“This could be achieved by asking families to design ways to improve communication and help identify issues and solutions. This could include improving communication and decision-making between couples and increasing male support of domestic practices.”
Global nutrition research
The NIHR-funded research is part of the Southampton 1000 Days Plus Global Nutrition research group, led by Professor Kate Ward.
This aims to address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’.
Southampton researchers in the study are involved in the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre, as well as from Medicine, Health Sciences and Social Sciences at the University of Southampton.