Still waiting for Godot? Improving Household Consumption and Expenditures Surveys (HCES) to enable more evidence-based nutrition policies

HarvestPlus, IFPRI, 2033 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20006, USA.
Food and nutrition bulletin (Impact Factor: 1.15). 09/2012; 33(3 Suppl):S242-51.
Source: PubMed


The constrained evidence base of food and nutrition policy-making compromises nutrition programs. Nutrition policy-making must do better than relying exclusively on Food and Agriculture Organization Food Balance Sheets. The strategy of relying on observed-weighed food record or 24-hour recall surveys has not proven practical either; they remain few in number, generally not nationally representative, and of dubious external validity. Although Household Consumption and Expenditures Surveys (HCES) have shortcomings, they are increasingly being used to address this information gap.
To promote dialog within the nutrition community, and between it and the greater community of HCES stakeholders, in order to identify their shared agenda and develop a strategy to improve HCES for analyzing food and nutrition issues.
The diverse origins and objectives of HCES are described, the evolution of their use in addressing food and nutrition issues is traced, and their shortcomings are identified.
The causes, relative importance, some potential solutions, and the strategic implications of three distinct categories of shortcomings are discussed. Elements of a possible approach and process for strengthening the surveys are outlined, including identifying best practices, developing guidelines and more rigorously analyzing the tradeoffs involved in common, key survey design and implementation decisions.
To date, the nutrition community's role in most HCES has been as a passive user of secondary data. The nutrition community must become more involved in the design, implementation, and analysis of HCES by identifying criteria for prioritizing countries, establishing assessment criteria, applying the criteria in retrospective assessments, identifying key shortcomings, and recommending alternatives to ameliorate the shortcomings. Several trends suggest that this is a propitious time for improving the relevance and reliability of HCES.

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Available from: Gero Carletto, Dec 13, 2013
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    • "HCES data are also fairly valid. Previous studies have found that household level expenditure data approximate data acquired from 24-hour recall surveys, making the use of expenditure data a reasonable proxy for food consumption [15,18-20]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background Noncommunicable diseases are a health and development challenge. Pacific Island countries are heavily affected by NCDs, with diabetes and obesity rates among the highest in the world. Trade is one of multiple structural drivers of NCDs in the Pacific, but country-level data linking trade, diets and NCD risk factors are scarce. We attempted to illustrate these links in five countries. The study had three objectives: generate cross-country profiles of food consumption and expenditure patterns; highlight the main ‘unhealthy’ food imports in each country to inform targeted policymaking; and demonstrate the potential of HCES data to analyze links between trade, diets and NCD risk factors, such as obesity. Methods We used two types of data: obesity rates as reported by WHO and aggregated household-level food expenditure and consumption from Household Income and Expenditure Survey reports. We classified foods in HIES data into four categories: imported/local, ‘unhealthy’/’healthy’, nontraditional/traditional, processed/unprocessed. We generated cross-country profiles and cross-country regressions to examine the relationships between imported foods and unhealthy foods, and between imported foods and obesity. Results Expenditure on imported foods was considerable in all countries but varied across countries, with highest values in Kiribati (53%) and Tonga (52%) and lowest values in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu (30%). Rice and sugar accounted for significant amounts of imported foods in terms of expenditure and calories, ranking among the top 3 foods in most countries. We found significant or near-significant associations in expenditure and caloric intake between ‘unhealthy’ and imported foods as well as between imported foods and obesity, though inferences based on these associations should be made carefully due to data constraints. Conclusions While additional research is needed, this study supports previous findings on trade as a structural driver of NCD risk and identifies the top imported foods that could serve as policy targets. Moreover, this analysis is proof-of-concept that the methodology is a cost-effective way for countries to use existing data to generate policy-relevant evidence on links between trade and NCDs. We believe that the methodology is replicable to other countries globally. A user-friendly Excel tool is available upon request to assist such analyses.
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    ABSTRACT: Household Consumption and Expenditures Surveys (HCES) are routinely conducted in several countries on nationally representative samples, often on a regular basis. The HCES have been considered as a potential alternative to more expensive surveys of individuals'food intakes for use in nutritional assessment and in planning programs such as food fortification. HCES gather information on household food availability (purchased, produced, or received as gifts) and use over a given period of time, often the past week or month. To discuss the potential usefulness of HCES consumption data for nutritional assessment and planning for populations of households and individuals within the households. There are several limitations to the HCES, most notably the difficulty of estimating the intrahousehold allocation of foods and therefore of quantifying the actual food intake of individual household members. Another concern is the lack of information on the variability of consumption over time, making it difficult to estimate the distribution of usual consumption, and thus the prevalence of nutrient inadequacies or excesses. Other potential limitations might be addressed by improvements to the HCES questionnaires, such as including information on foods that are available but not consumed and those that are consumed outside the home. Research is needed to better understand both the strengths and the weaknesses of the HCES data when used to assess and plan intakes at the household and individual levels.
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