The Ethnophysiology and Folk Dietetics of Pregnancy: A Case Study from South India

  • Mark Nichter
Part of the Culture, Illness, and Healing book series (CIHE, volume 15)


A series of successive pregnancies subject most rural South Indian women to dietary restrictions for a significant part of their lives (Gopalan and Naidu 1972). While folk dietary restrictions have frequently been cited in Indian health sector reports (Voluntary Health Association 1985b; United States Department of Health, Eduction and Welfare 1979) as negatively affecting the health status of pregnant women among the rural poor, little attempt has been made to understand how and to what extent. Moreover, few studies have examined in any detail the contingency between popular notions of ethnophysiology, lay health concerns, preventive and promotive health behavior, and folk dietetics.1 In this paper, we investigate these issues in southwest peninsular India. An initial topic explored is the relationship between lay ideas about appropriate baby size and food consumption behavior. Both the quantity and quality of foodstuffs deemed appropriate to consume during pregnancy are considered. Alternative patterns of food consumption associated with baby size preference and reasons for this preference are discussed in relation to folk health ideology. Concepts of ethnophysiology and pathology are highlighted in relation to specific dietary practices and folk medical behavior. Public health ramifications of the study are discussed and suggestions made toward enhancing nutrition education efforts by greater anthropological perspective.


Pregnant Woman Ferrous Sulfate Dietary Behavior Tetanus Toxoid Primary Health Centre 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Nichter
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyThe University of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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