As overweight/obesity prevalence increases in sub-Saharan Africa, information is needed about factors influencing food purchases in households with overweight members. This study assessed food purchasing decisions of Malawian mothers with young children (N = 54 dry season, N = 55 rainy season) among whom the mother, child, or both were overweight. Research assistants completed structured observations of mothers shopping for food during the dry season and of the types and quantities of foods in mothers' homes during the rainy season. After each observation, research assistants conducted an in-depth interview about factors that influenced food purchases, including asking mothers to sort 12 factors into piles that always, sometimes, or never influence their food purchases. Observations showed mothers most often shopped at outdoor markets to buy foods needed to prepare relish, such as tomatoes (71%), green leafy vegetables (58%), cooking oil (58%), and fish (40%). At home, maize flour (80%) and salt (66%) were the most common foods. Pile sorts and in-depth interviews revealed cost, taste preferences, freshness, and healthiness were the strongest factors influencing food purchases. Mothers described buying a smaller quantity or making substitutions (e.g., fish instead of meat) if a food is too expensive. Many mothers reported buying foods their family likes and prioritizing children's preferences. Freshness of foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and whether foods were perceived to be healthy also influenced food purchases, but mothers' knowledge of which foods were healthy was mixed. Mothers used some of their minimal funds to buy unhealthy foods (e.g., packaged or fried snacks) for their children, despite their overall emphasis on food cost and healthiness. These findings can be used by programs to reinforce healthy and decrease unhealthy food purchases by mothers with young children in Malawi.
Food purchasing decisions of Malawian mothers with young children in households experiencing the nutrition transition