and labeling policies, and incorporation of advances in dietary knowledge into health care delivery, affect what people are consuming and the consequences for their health and safety? Given that the prevalence of obesity is greater among low-income than other households, what effects have food assistance and educational programs had on the nutritional quality of diets of those served by the programs, and are these programs effective in improving diets and health? How do food consumption patterns affect food markets—for example, how do different weight-loss programs affect the purchasing and consumption of different foods? Where do people buy and consume food, and how does food preparation affect food safety? How does consumption of specific foods change after a food safety outbreak?
Many different kinds of information are needed to address these questions and to formulate or adjust policy: information on food expenditures, food consumption, food prices, where food is purchased and consumed, food preparation, diet and health knowledge, and possible sources of contamination. For example, to understand if foods with relatively high energy content and low nutrient content are being consumed rather than healthier foods because they are relatively cheaper or more readily available, data on food consumption, prices, and availability are needed. For some purposes, longitudinal data on the behavior of the same households over time are needed. For other purposes, data are needed on a very timely basis in order to make decisions based on current or recent market conditions.
While there are rich sources of data on food consumption and related issues, gaps exist, and no single source contains all of the information needed to answer these questions. For example, there are good data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) on food purchases by households. However, these data do not have information on who in a household consumes how much of the food; they do not contain detailed information on food consumed away from the home; and they do not include information on prices paid for specific quantities of particular foods. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collects critical information on food consumption and health and nutritional status that has many uses for policy making and research. However, it does not now collect data on how much was spent on the food that was consumed. The ability to link such economic information as food purchasing, food consumption, and household socioeconomic characteristics to survey information on what consumers know about diet, health, good food preparation practices, and food safety issues is also lacking.