This study investigates adolescents' relationships with food and other community and household members' perceptions of youth and their food consumption to understand the multifactorial dynamic processes which create nutritional outcomes among urban and rural youth in central Tanzania. Youth are an important and demographically large population in developing countries. The identities created during this distinct stage of cultural production can be reflected in youths' food consumption and relationships with food. Nutrition likely affects how youth transition through a variety of states, including their growth and development stages, primary to secondary to higher education, child to parent, or unemployed to employed. Food and nutrition are in transition in many developing countries such as Tanzania. Here, many adolescents experience undernutrition, in addition to increasing access to low-nutrient, high-calorie foods and increased risk for overweight and obesity during their lifespan. Little data exists in these contexts regarding food security, food consumption and nutritional outcomes.
This study utilizes a biocultural approach which constructs adolescence as a socially distinct and culturally variable period between childhood and adulthood with unique roles and responsibilities. This framework draws upon political economy theory, with influences from political ecology, evolutionary theory and an adaptive perspective to investigate youths' relationships with food within the larger context of their lives, households and communities. This study explores the ways that gender, poverty and locality affect youth and their relationships with food through qualitative and quantitative methodology.
A mixed-methods approach is used at two field sites in central Tanzania: rural Haydom Ward and urban Singida Municipality. Methods employed in this study include semi-structured interviews, pile sorts, focus groups, a quantitative survey, food frequency questionnaire, anthropometry, and participant observation. Qualitative data help to gain an in-depth understanding of adolescent health and nutrition in urban and rural areas of Tanzania, and provide a foundation for a quantitative survey, which aims to provide an overview of adolescent food consumption, nutritional status, and health-related behaviors on a larger scale.
Youth food consumption and nutrition in central Tanzania is imbedded within a web of social, biological and environmental processes and influenced by gender, population density, school enrollment, household structure and poverty. Food security risks and consumption patterns vary by field site, where seasonality and drought negatively impact rural adolescents' health and food consumption patterns, while lack of money and increased food cost affect urban adolescents more. Boys are especially vulnerable; they report consuming less food and exhibit poorer nutritional status than girls.
School attendance offers unique challenges to food consumption. Urban schools do not offer breakfast or lunch, so most students go the entire day without a meal. In rural areas, schools may provide food through mandatory 'contributions' required for student enrollment, but these enrollment requirements can act as a barrier for poorer households. Additionally, rural schools are often far from students' homes, forcing many to live at the school in rented poor-quality shacks far from markets and potable water sources.
Parents and other community members view adolescents as essential members of the household who perform important tasks in the household and community. They also construct youth as problematic, and link food insecurity to culturally problematic behaviors where food insecurity leads adolescents to migrate to larger urban areas. Here, they may experience extreme poverty, engage in transactional sex, and abuse alcohol and drugs. Adolescent food consumption is imbedded within multifactorial challenges related to education, globalization, and household and community relationships. Strategies to address adolescent health or livelihood issues in Tanzania and elsewhere must engage a holistic approach where all aspects of adolescents' lives are considered.