Background: The dearth of 24-hour recall and observed-weighed food record data--what most nutritionists regard as the gold standard source of food consumption data-has long been an obstacle to evidence-based food and nutrition policy. There have been a steadily growing number of studies using household food acquisition and consumption data from a variety of multipurpose, nationally representative household surveys as a proxy measure to overcome this fundamental information gap.
Objective: To describe the key characteristics of these increasingly available Household Consumption and Expenditures Surveys (HCES) in order to help familiarize food and nutrition analysts with the strengths and shortcomings of these data and thus encourage their use in low- and middle-income countries; and to identify common shortcomings that can be readily addressed in the near term in a country-by-country approach, as new HCES are fielded, thereby beginning a process of improving the potential of these surveys as sources of useful data for better understanding food- and nutrition-related issues.
Methods: Common characteristics of key food and nutrition information that is available in HCES and some basic common steps in processing HCES data for food and nutrition analyses are described.
Results: The common characteristics of these surveys are documented, and their usefulness in addressing major food and nutrition issues, as well as their shortcomings, is demonstrated.
Conclusions: Despite their limitations, the use of HCES data constitutes a generally unexploited opportunity to address the food consumption information gap by using survey data that most countries are already routinely collecting.