existing data infrastructure, rather than considering major new data collection efforts. A broader consideration of new data collections would require a much more in-depth study.
A number of different agencies rely on high-quality data on food consumption, diet, and health. Two departments alone—USDA and DHHS—each have multiple agencies that use these data for different purposes. For some purposes, data on medical and nutritional outcomes and covariates are needed. For others, data about diet and health knowledge and food preparation practices are needed. And for still others, data on prices, expenditures, and financial and other resources are needed. Moreover, for each type of data, there is increasing need for more detail and the ability to link different data sources.
With the merging of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals (CSFII) in 2002, NHANES now becomes the only large nationally representative dataset of the federal government that collects detailed information on food consumption. This merger has resulted in new efficiencies in data collection, but it has also placed increased demands on NHANES—to fill both the role that CSFII formerly filled and the primary role of NHANES to assess health and nutritional status.
The process of merging these two data collection programs is still a work in progress. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the agency in DHHS that conducts the survey, has a good track record of working with other agencies to address data collection needs. But the NHANES will not be able to address all the data needs for all the agencies. Thus, additions and modifications to other related surveys and data collection efforts will need to be considered. In this regard, we are impressed by the initiative shown by the Economic Research Service (ERS) in USDA, not only in funding the development of the Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey Module to include in NHANES and a food and eating module to include in the American Time Use Survey, but also in undertaking research with scanner data and other initiatives to make the best use of and to enhance the available data infrastructure for food and nutrition-related policy planning and analysis.