1996, which determined that food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (WFS Plan of Action, 1996). This widely accepted definition underlines the multidimensional nature of food security, comprising level and stability of food access and availability, adequacy of food use and food consumption and nutritional status. Conversely, it explains that food insecurity, i.e. the absence of food security, can be the result of very diverse factors.
The equally broad and overlapping concept of nutrition security determined by dimensions of food, care and health, can be assessed through a number indicators, including those measuring undernutrition as well as overnutrition. Per Pinstrup-Andersen talks about the triple burden of malnutrition, differentiating between (i) food energy deficiency, (ii) deficiency in specific nutrients, especially micronutrients, which are also key for an active and healthy life, and (iii) excessive net energy intake leading to overweight and obesity (Pinstrup-Andersen, 2007). In view of this multi-facetted character of food insecurity and malnutrition, it is not surprising that—when indicators measure different dimensions—the conclusions may also be different from one indicator to another. However, where different methods are used to measure the same phenomenon, one would expect only little, if any differences. The comparative assessment provided in this paper intends to discuss the reasons for differences between methods and indicators in more detail. While we recognize that the obesity problem is increasing, including in developing countries, we concentrate primarily on measures of food deprivation and undernutrition.
Obviously, before a specific food insecurity information and mapping system is set up, clarification is needed, as to which aspect of food insecurity is to be measured in each particular situation and by which indicator. Expressed in simple terms, people are deemed food insecure when their consumption of food is insufficient, insecure and/or unsustainable (Maxwell and Frankenberger, 1995). They live in hunger or fear of starvation. Although hunger is commonly understood as a sensation of not having enough to eat, its definition and measurement are not at all trivial. On the one hand, the extent of hunger can be measured as a lack of essential nutrients in the diet. A widely used indicator for this is food energy deficiency. On the other hand, hunger may also be the result of humans’ inability to absorb and use food energy and specific nutrients for body functions, implying that the overall nutritional status may also be affected by people’s health. Accordingly, the combined effects of access to food and of food absorption and use are best measured through outcome indicators that inform about people’s actual nutrition status such as undernutrition or overnutrition.
Before proceeding to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these various approaches to the topic, it is necessary to clarify the purpose of measurement. Two quite different purposes can be distinguished. One is to be informed about the extent and consequences of an actual food emergency caused by a sudden drop in supply or access to food. In such situations, indicators must provide information about people’s immediate needs of essential nutrients to ensure survival. Indicators must be easy and quick to measure and useful for the design of humanitarian aid action. The second purpose relates to chronic food insecurity, caused by long term food deprivation linked to structural poverty and poor nutrition. One such indicator is “undernourishment”, a measure of ‘chronic food insecurity, in which food intake is insufficient to meet basic energy requirements on a continuing basis’ (FAO, (SOFI, 1999), p. 11). Information about chronic food insecurity is needed for an assessment of level, geographical