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Food Based Indicators

Photography credits:©FAO/Photographer' Marco Salustro, Sergey Kozmin, Louise Potterton & Franco Mattioli

There is a dearth of food security indicators at household level to measure food security. Several experiential food security scales have been developed for use in resource-poor settings. These scales are used in the evaluation of changes in diets or food consumption patterns at household level when there is limited availability and accessibility to foods.

Dietary Diversity Indicators

The Nutrition Assessment and Nutrient Requirements Group of the Nutrition Division at FAO promotes the use of simple assessment indicators to measure food consumption and food security.

Quantitative surveys for dietary intake in individuals are expensive and time consuming to conduct. Dietary diversity tool, however, has been validated as a simple proxy for  intake. At household level, it is a measure of access to food (Hoddinott and Yohannes, 2002). At individual level, it has been validated as a proxy for assessing the adequacy of micronutrient intakes  of women and children (Arimond et al., 2010; Working Group on Infant and Young Child Feeding Indicators, 2006 ).

The Nutrition Assessment team has also developed guidelines to conduct dietary diversity studies using the FANTA questionnaire (FANTA, 2006).

Dietary diversity is defined as the number of food groups consumed over a given period of time. The tool uses a qualitative open recall method to gather information on all foods and drinks consumed over the previous 24 hours, which are then classified into standard food groups. It can be administered either at household or individual level. The guidelines describe adaptation of the tool to local food systems. The analyses include working out the dietary diversity scores, proportions of households/individuals consuming certain food groups of nutritional interest (e.g. vitamin A ), and dietary diversity patterns.

The information generated from dietary diversity tool is particularly useful to develop effective food and nutrition security policies and programmes that promote and provide nutritious foods. Furthermore, the tool is quick and simple to use, it can be integrated easily into impact evaluation protocols.

Experiential Indicators of Food security

  1. The new Household Hunger Scale (HHS)  is a simple 3-question indicator for assessing household hunger in highly food insecure areas. The HHS was developed by FANTA in collaboration with FAO, which is a unique tool as it has been  intentionally developed and validated for cross-cultural use.
  2. The Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) is a 9-question tool from which the HHS was derived. Although it has not been validated for cross cultural use, it is useful in situations with less severe food insecurity.
  3. The Escala Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Seguridad Alimentaria (Latin American Household Food Security Measurement Scale, ELCSA), a standard and valid measurement tool widely used in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is now being adapted for use in other parts of the world. For example, it has been included in Albania for a baseline survey of a joint UN MDG programme on reducing childhood malnutrition.

These tools being easy to implement and analyze are very relevant in countries at central level as well as the decentralized level (e.g. they can be used by extension workers). The Nutrition Assessment team provides technical assistance for adaptation, use and integration of these tools in food and nutrition security information systems. Under the umbrella of the European Commission / FAO Food Security Programme,  the dietary diversity tool and the HFIAS have been adapted to local context and translated into local language in Mozambique (Portuguese), Malawi (Chichewa) and Kenya (Kiswahili).

Who is Hungry in this House? An Interview with Terri Ballard about the Household Hunger Scale (HHS)