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Validation of the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale in rural Tanzania

Summary of published research1

In developing tools to measure household food insecurity, researchers have most often either adapted a version of the Cornell/Radimer measuring tool or a tool based on research on how households experience food insecurity. Food insecurity measurements have sometimes relied in part on an index of coping strategies. It has been recommended that strategies to supplement household income and resources be excluded from measurement tools. This is because they represent a different aspect of food insecurity and do not always fit statistically with other questions in the scale in measuring the same concept. Some strategies are not always accessible to all households. They also vary widely across cultures and countries, making it difficult to identify a universally relevant set of resource supplementation questions.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance (FANTA-2) developed the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) for use cross culturally as a way of measuring household food insecurity. The scale is based on a household's experience of problems regarding access to food. A recent study set out to test the construct validity, internal consistency and convergent validity of the HFIAS in measuring household food insecurity in rural Tanzania.

Six villages in the Iringa Region in Central Tanzania were assessed using HFIAS to determine socio-economic characteristics associated with household food insecurity. Key informant interviews with 21 purposively selected male and female village leaders were conducted. Cross-sectional surveys, involving 257 households with mothers (caregivers) and at least one child between one and five years of age, were carried out in February and March 2008.

The study found that approximately 20.7% of the households were categorised as food secure, 8.4% as mildly food-insecure, 22.8% as moderately food-insecure and 48.1% as severely food-insecure. Two main factors emerged from the rotated principal component factor analysis: insufficient food quality and insufficient food intake. Both factors explained 69% of the total variance. The full food insecurity scale and the two sub-scales had good internal consistency. Food security, as measured by HFIAS, was positively associated with maternal education, husband's education, household wealth status, being of an agricultural rather than pastoral tribe and animal-source food consumption. Food security was negatively associated with maternal age and household size. These findings are similar to correlations found in other studies in Tanzania.

Strengths of the study were the use of a random sample, a food insecurity instrument designed to be used in a cross-cultural setting, and key informants to guide instrument development and wealth status categorisation. Additional strengths are the systematic assessment of multiple measures of the scale's validity and the variety of socio-economic characteristics assessed for correlations with food insecurity. However, there was no true gold standard to judge criterion validity. Instead the study examined convergent validity, by correlating food insecurity and household wealth.

The authors concluded that the HFIAS measurement instrument shows validity and reliability in measuring household food insecurity among poor households in rural Tanzania. It is argued that the HFIAS addresses the shortcomings of the Radimer/Cornell food insecurity measure by more clearly capturing problems of both food quality and quantity in the local context. It also avoids the drawbacks of relying heavily on coping strategies that supplement a household's resource base, in assessing food insecurity. Importantly, this simple instrument can be used by non-specialists and is relatively easy to analyse and interpret. This minimises the time and cost for organisations to identify and target groups that might benefit from programmes to reduce food insecurity.

Show footnotes

1Knueppel. D, Demment. M and Kaiser. L (2009). Validation of the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale in rural Tanzania (2009). Public Health Nutrition 13 (3), pp 360-367

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Validation of the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale in rural Tanzania. Field Exchange 39, September 2010. p17. www.ennonline.net/fex/39/validation

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