The Food Insecurity Experience Scale

The Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), developed by the Voices of the Hungry (VoH) project, is an experience-based metric of severity of food insecurity that relies on people’s direct responses to eight questions regarding their access to adequate food. It represents a different approach to measurement compared to traditional ways that assess food insecurity indirectly, such as FAO´s Prevalence of Undernourishment, food security determinants (such as food availability or income), and outcome measures (such as nutritional status) while offering an important complement to such indicators. Accumulated evidence over the past two decades has convinced FAO of the potential for using this method of measurement to provide valid and reliable population estimates of food insecurity in the different countries of the world.

No single tool can account for the many dimensions of food and nutrition security. The FIES is expected to make an important contribution to the existing set of food and nutrition security indicators. Used in combination with other measures, the FIES has the potential to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the causes and consequences of food insecurity and to inform more effective policies and interventions. As a cross-disciplinary indicator, it is capable of promoting the link between different sectorial perspectives, for example, the link between nutrition and agriculture.

The questions

The FIES consists of eight short questions that refer to the experiences of the individual respondent or of the respondent’s household as a whole. The questions focus on self-reported food-related behaviors and experiences associated with increasing difficulties in accessing food due to resource constraints. The set of questions compose a scale based on a well-grounded construct of the experience of food insecurity composed of three domains: uncertainty/anxiety, changes in food quality, and changes in food quantity.

The FIES is a psychometric scale similar to other widely-accepted psychometric scales designed to measure unobservable traits such as aptitude/intelligence, personality, and a broad range of social psychology and health-related conditions. Comparability of results across countries will be achieved through the use of statistical techniques borrowed from the toolkit of Item Response Theory (IRT) models, commonly used in the educational and psychological testing fields.

Using the FIES information

FIES data collected in the Gallup® World Poll (GWP) surveys will be used to derive country-level estimates of the prevalence of food insecurity at various stages of severity. The information will be collected annually and used for monitoring trends within and across regions, as well as for tracking progress towards achieving international goals for eradicating hunger.  Results from the FIES applied annually in GWP surveys will be made available to governments and to the public through an open-access platform. FAO data through the Voices of the Hungry Project refers to individuals, rather than to households, making it possible to examine gender disparities in food access in the population.
The FIES can be easily incorporated into many kinds of individual and household surveys. To strengthen country-level capacity for evidence-based food security policies, VoH will provide technical assistance to countries interested in including the FIES in large-scale nationally representative surveys.

Linguistic adaptation

All FIES questions are worded to be as concise and universally relevant as possible. However, since the scale is being used in more than 150 countries through the VoH project, it is important to ensure that the questions, as formulated in the language of administration, faithfully capture the concepts underlying the food insecurity scale.

The VoH project conducted in-depth linguistic adaptations of the FIES questions in national languages of Angola, Ethiopia, Malawi, and Niger following a common methodology and the resulting versions were pilot tested in these countries in 2013. These experiences provided invaluable information regarding phrases and concepts which require more careful adaptation, but also reassured FAO with respect to the robustness of the questions and the standard translation process employed by Gallup to translate all of the World Poll questions into local languages. Since it is not feasible to conduct in-depth adaption work in every country and language within the logistical constraints of the GWP, lessons learned from the pilot studies were incorporated into an Explanatory Document to guide translation efforts and enumerator training. This document is available in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese and Albanian.

FIES 2014 translations download

For now, the FIES is available in more than 70 languages. More languages and dialects will follow. These versions are used in 2014. They might be subject to change in 2015.

Linguistic adaptation reports