Commonalities in the experience of household food insecurity across cultures: what are measures missing?

J Nutr. 2006 May;136(5):1438S-1448S. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.5.1438S.


This paper hypothesizes that there is a common "core" to the household food insecurity experience that goes beyond insufficient food quantity and that transcends culture. The paper for the first time employs an exploratory approach to identify cross-cultural commonalities of the food insecurity experience as captured in 22 scales and related ethnographies derived from 15 different countries. The constant comparative method was used to code elements of the food insecurity experience expressed in the ethnographies and to regroup them into domains and subdomains. This typology was then applied to ascertain which experiential domains and subdomains were measured (or not) across all 22 studies. Survey data from 11 of the studies were then analyzed to assess similarities in the relative frequency with which culturally diverse households responded to questionnaire items related to these common domains/subdomains. The analysis confirmed that insufficient food quantity, inadequate food quality, and uncertainty and worry about food were a significant part of the food insecurity experience in all sampled cultures; concerns about social unacceptability emerged in all ethnographic accounts. Several subdomains were identified, such as concern over food safety and meal pattern disruption, with potentially important consequences for physical and psychological well-being. The comparative survey data showed that the relative frequency at which populations responded to domain-related questionnaire items was similar across all but a few cultures. Future food insecurity assessments should consider these core domains and subdomains as the starting point for measures that can generate rich information to inform food security policies and programs.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Bangladesh
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Developing Countries
  • Ethnicity
  • Family Characteristics
  • Food Supply*
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Poverty*
  • Rural Health
  • United States