concept of “balanced meal” as applied, and therefore the question may not be understood in terms of “insufficient quality.”


Many of the issues outlined in the preceding discussion can be classified under an overarching principle of questionnaire design, that is, the reduction of cognitive burden for the respondent. Consistent use of terminology, clustering questions so as to focus on a specific reference person or reference group (e.g., the respondent, all adults) and on a specific reference period, and developing response options that most closely map to the respondent’s representation of the behavior (or attitude) are all means by which questions can be designed to reduce cognitive burden and, as a result, improve the validity and reliability of the measures. Inevitably, questionnaire design requires balancing multiple intents and principles, and there is no perfect questionnaire design. Nevertheless, the panel concludes that the questions in the HFSSM in particular and the FSS in general can be improved by attending to these design principles as well as possible.

Finally, the panel notes that many of the questions included in the FSS are not incorporated in the classification of households as food secure or insecure. However, they are used for research by USDA and other researchers. When developing the food security scale, Hamilton and colleagues (1997a, 1997b) tested some of these questions for inclusion in the scale but decided against using them after testing the scale. If any of the questions are not important for research purposes, they should be deleted from the FSS. However, any changes made to the supplement should be mindful of potential context effects.

In reviewing the research, the panel was impressed with the unusually comprehensive program of methodological research conducted in the mid-1990s. That series of studies provides, in many respects, a model on which to ground future research.

At the time those studies were conducted, cognitive assessment of questions was undertaken prior to the launching of the 1995 CPS supplement, but the field was not as advanced as it is now (see e.g., Willis, 2004; Presser et al., 2004). USDA should consider cognitive interviews to explore who in the household is the most appropriate person to answer the questions and what topics are appropriate for proxy responding. Following substantial cognitive testing, if a major revision of these items is undertaken, it is then appropriate to focus on improvements to the reliability of the items by simplifying them and the cognitive burden they impose.

In addition to cognitive assessment of the individual items, the use of computer-assisted interviewing (either for in-person or telephone interviews)

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