BACKGROUND: Attributes that caregivers assign to complementary foods have been primarily described in the context of illness, but attributes assigned to foods in everyday circumstances must be understood to effectively promote good complementary feeding.
OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to understand how mothers judge complementary foods to be appropriate by cross-cultural examination of food perceptions in four different Latin American and Caribbean countries.
METHODS: We used semistructured interviews to assess attributes that mothers ascribed to a list of key foods, both home-made and manufactured, and reasons for feeding or not feeding them. We elicited attributes from 79 caregivers with children 6 to 24 months of age from two urban and perirban sites each in Brazil, Jamaica, Mexico, and Panama.
RESULTS: Textual analysis based on six home foods common to the four countries and manufactured foods resulted in six attribute categories, five of which could be positive or negative (Nutrient Content, Effects on Child, Child's Response, Availability and Accessibility, and Other Food Attributes); one (Food Quality and Safety) was only negative. Analysis of attributes of home foods (chicken, eggs, beans, carrots, bananas or plantains, and oranges) revealed many beliefs that were common within and across countries, whereas analysis of the attributes of manufactured foods revealed that these foods were less known.
CONCLUSIONS: The consistency of the attribute categories across countries and across home and manufactured foods suggests their relevance to planning programs to improve complementary feeding in Latin America and the Caribbean and possibly other developing countries. These results can be used programmatically to assess the need for and the focus of food education programs, and to indicate which countries will be more receptive to certain foods as a means of improving complementary feeding.