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This paper aims to establish whether there is a significant difference in nutritional status of children in male-headed households, de jure female-headed households and de facto female-headed households. The study uses a sample of 199 children aged 6 to 60 months, of mothers in reproductive age, derived from 499 smallholder households in rural Kenya. The sample was selected using multi-stage stratified sampling technique. Three indices namely; height/length-for-age z-scores (stunting), weight-for-age zscores (underweight) and weight-for-height (wasting) z-scores were examined on children in two regions (Vihiga and Busia) in western Kenya. However, for the purpose of testing hypothesis, stunting is used due to its strength in measuring long term effect of food scarcity as compared to wasting and underweight which may vary depending on the period the data is collected (seasonal variation). Two-way (between groups) Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) is used to analyse the height/length–for-age z-scores against household headship. Household headship is stratified according to whether the husband is present and active in decision making (male- headed household), the husband lives away from the household but maintains regular contact with the family including sending remittances (de facto female-headed household), or the woman is recognized as head of household because she is a widow, divorced or separated (de jure female-headed household). Western Kenya is characterized by relatively high levels of undernutrition despite being classified as a region of high agricultural potential. In addition, there is increasing trend of female-headed households in the region hence the need to demonstrate the effect of household headship on nutritional status of the children. The results indicate that household headship has a large and significant effect on stunting of under five children [F (1, 93) = 4.675, p=.0.012]. More boys (37 %) than girls (33%) were stunted and Busia had more children who were stunted (37%) than Vihiga (25%). The study reaffirms the need to enhance women’s control over household resource allocation as one way of enhancing child nutrition in western Kenya.
Key words: Intrahousehold, Nutrition, under-five, Kenya.