Food Data System
for 2030 and Beyond
Panel on Improving Consumer Data for Food and Nutrition Policy
Research for the Economic Research Service
Committee on National Statistics
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
A Consensus Study Report of
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This activity was supported by a contract between the National Academy of Sciences and the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture under project number 58-5000-7-0106. Support for the work of the Committee on National Statistics is provided by a consortium of federal agencies through a grant from the National Science Foundation, a National Agricultural Statistics Service cooperative agreement, and several individual contracts. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-67071-5
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Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/25657
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Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2020). A Consumer Food Data System for 2030 and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25657.
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PANEL ON IMPROVING CONSUMER DATA FOR FOOD AND NUTRITION POLICY RESEARCH FOR THE ECONOMIC RESEARCH SERVICE
MARIANNE P. BITLER (Chair), University of California, Davis
TIM BEATTY, University of California, Davis
SOFIA BERTO VILLAS-BOAS, University of California, Berkeley
F. JAY BREIDT, Colorado State University
CRAIG GUNDERSEN, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
MICHAEL W. LINK, Abt Associates
BRUCE D. MEYER, The University of Chicago
AMY B. O’HARA, Georgetown University
ERIC B. RIMM, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
NORA CATE SCHAEFFER, University of Wisconsin–Madison
DIANE W. SCHANZENBACH, Northwestern University
PARKE E. WILDE, Tufts University
JAMES P. ZILIAK, University of Kentucky
CHRISTOPHER MACKIE, Senior Program Officer
NANCY KIRKENDALL, Senior Program Officer
MICHAEL SIRI, Associate Program Officer
COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL STATISTICS
ROBERT M. GROVES (Chair), Office of the Provost, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and Department of Sociology, Georgetown University
ANNE C. CASE, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
JANET M. CURRIE, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
DONALD A. DILLMAN, Social and Economic Sciences Research Center, Washington State University
DIANA FARRELL, JPMorgan Chase Institute, Washington, DC
ROBERT GOERGE, Chapin Hall at The University of Chicago
HILARY HOYNES, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley
DANIEL KIFER, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University
SHARON LOHR, Consultant and Freelance Writer
THOMAS L. MESENBOURG, Retired, formerly U.S. Census Bureau
SARAH M. NUSSER, Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, Iowa State University
JEROME P. REITER, Department of Statistical Science, Duke University
JUDITH A. SELTZER, Department of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles
C. MATTHEW SNIPP, Department of Sociology, Stanford University
JEANETTE WING, Data Science Institute, Columbia University
BRIAN HARRIS-KOJETIN, Director
CONNIE F. CITRO, Senior Scholar
This Consensus Study Report is the product of contributions from many colleagues whom we thank for their generous time and effort and expert guidance. The project was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Economic Research Service (ERS) to provide guidance to its Food Economics Division as it continues development of key national data sources for measuring the food and nutrition conditions faced by consumers, and the factors that affect those conditions. Work by the Food Economics Division is crucial in helping ERS fulfill its mission to “anticipate trends and emerging issues in agriculture, food, the environment, and rural America and to conduct high-quality, objective economic research to inform and enhance public and private decision making.” The efforts of the people listed here enabled the panel to execute its charge to provide guidance to ERS for advancing its Consumer Food Data System (CFDS) over the next 10 years in a way that enhances its capacity to support research and inform current and anticipated policy questions.
The panel thanks ERS staff who attended open meetings and generously gave of their time to present material to inform the panel’s deliberations. They provided comprehensive information about the agency’s current projects and priorities related to the CFDS. These presentations informed panel members about key developments—exploiting proprietary data, developing linkages across data sources, adding supplements to exiting surveys, and continuing the planning of surveys such as FoodAPS—enabling continued progress on the ERS data infrastructure.
Mary Bohman, administrator (former), Jay Variyam, division director, and Mark Denbaly, deputy division director for Food Economics Data,
outlined goals of the study and detailed the agency’s blueprint for the current CFDS. Throughout the duration of the study, Jay and Mark provided substantive input and kept the panel up to date on developments at ERS and with FoodAPS and other programs. In documenting the agency’s current data programs and research activities, David Levin and Megan Sweitzer, both ERS economists, provided an overview of the use of proprietary data in the CFDS. Andrea Carlson, also an ERS economist, described agency efforts to link nutrition information to other data sources. Shelly Ver Ploeg, chief, Food Assistance Branch, discussed the role of data linking in informing research on how food store access and the larger food environment impact food choices, diet, and diet-related health. Mark Prell, senior economist, presented on the Next Generation Data Platform for using administrative data. Elina Page, ERS economist, provided a detailed overview of FoodAPS and discussed plans for the second round of the survey. Abigail Okrent, ERS research economist, documented current uses of commercial data by ERS and outlined plans for expanding their use. Biing-Hwan Lin, senior economist, presented information on the agency’s work linking the Food Availability Data System (FADS) to nutrition intake data from the Agricultural Research Service and National Center for Health Statistics to monitor and research the health and dietary outcomes. ERS research economists Brandon Restrepo and Eliana Zeballos and social science analyst Alisha Coleman-Jensen detailed the use of specialized modules added to federal surveys to advance the CFDS.
The panel also benefited greatly from a number of presentations by experts from beyond the statistical system. Addressing commercial data sources used by USDA, Brian Burke, IRI, described work by his firm with proprietary household and retail scanner price data; Ann Hanson and Louis Lesce, NPD, presented on that company’s consumer spending and consumption data collections; and Joseph Fortson of Nielsen described their store-level database of retailers selling consumer packaged goods, including food. The panel also learned a great deal about efforts to combine data sources to advance food and nutrition policy and research. Alison Krester of ILSI North America and Kyle McKillop of the University of Maryland Joint Institute for Food Safety and Nutrition, presented on the USDA Branded Food Products Database, which augments the USDA National Nutrient Database with nutrient composition and ingredient information. Laurie May and Tom Krenzke kept the panel informed about progress on FoodAPS-2, which their company, Westat, is contracted to develop and field. Working with panel member Parke Wilde, Mehreen Ismail of Tufts University summarized strengths and weaknesses of FoodAPS from a researcher perspective and offered suggestions for improvements. Robert Moffitt, Johns Hopkins University, addressed data needs to advance research on program outcomes, food expenditure, reporting errors, and
SNAP impacts, thereby providing insights about productive future directions for ERS surveys. Susan Krebs-Smith, chief, Risk Factor Monitoring and Methods Branch, National Cancer Institute, described the use of USDA consumer food data for health research. Melissa Abelev, assistant deputy administrator at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service described her agency’s role in producing and using CFDS information. Several researchers presented ideas for improving food and nutrition data—including integration of commercial and administrative data—for the purpose of informing policy issues. Colleen Heflin, Syracuse University, presented on the insights that can be gleaned by linking SNAP administrative data with other types of administrative data and limitations to this. Justine Hastings, Brown University, discussed her work using retail panel loyalty card data and Rhode Island state administrative records to analyze how SNAP benefits are spent. Charles Courtemanche, University of Kentucky, presented work assessing the quality of administrative SNAP data used in FoodAPS. Rachel Shattuck, chief, Survey Improvement Research Branch of the Census Bureau, presented on the quality and utility of an interagency cooperative program called the Next-Generation Data Platform. John Eltinge, assistant director at the U.S. Census Bureau, presented information to the panel about interagency efforts to address quality issues associated with using multiple data sources (including proprietary data). Cordell Golden, statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics, described ongoing record linkage programs at his agency. Rob Santos, vice president and chief methodologist, The Urban Institute, described nongovernment sources for filling data gaps in the CFDS, including those produced through a collaboration with the Feeding America program. Alessandro Bonanno, Colorado State University, presented ideas for improving geospatial information in ERS’s food data system. On the topic of using proprietary data for food policy research, Mary Muth, director of RTI’s Food, Nutrition, and Obesity Policy Research Program, described types, sources, and considerations and limitations in using store scanner data, household scanner data, and nutrition data from labels for food policy research. On a related topic, Helen Jensen, Iowa State, described how proprietary scanner data could help shed light on issues related to the WIC program. Carma Hogue, assistant division chief, U.S. Census Bureau, described that agency’s work on improving economic statistics through web scraping and machine learning. Finally, the panel heard presentations informing the panel about data needs for implementation and assessment of programs at state and local levels. Shannon Whaley, director, Research and Evaluation, PHFE WIC (Public Health Foundation Enterprises, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children)—the largest local WIC agency in the country—discussed data needs for planning, development, and evaluation of programs designed to promote the healthy development of low-income children and families.
Caroline Danielson, policy director and senior fellow, Public Policy Institute of California, presented data needs for effective administration of state-level programs such as SNAP/Calfresh. Wendi Gosliner, unit director, Nutrition Policy Institute, University of California, discussed data needs for research and policy to improve federal food and nutrition programs, such as WIC and SNAP-Ed, designed to improve population health. Hilary Hoynes, professor, Public Policy and Economics, University of California, Berkeley, discussed the role of different kinds of data, including administrative data and data on policy choices made by states, for understanding health outcomes associated with programs such as SNAP and WIC.
The panel could not have conducted its work efficiently without the capable staff of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: Brian Harris-Kojetin, director, Committee on National Statistics, provided institutional leadership and substantive contributions during meetings. Kirsten Sampson-Snyder, director of reports, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, expertly coordinated the review process; and Marc DeFrancis provided thorough final editing that improved the readability of the report for a wide audience. We also thank Michael Siri, senior program associate, for his well-organized and efficient logistical support of the panel’s meetings, as well as his contribution to assembling and formatting of this report. Nancy Kirkendall was essential in drafting important sections of the report and providing insights based on her long experience with USDA data and research issues and with the U.S. statistical system. On behalf of the panel, I thank the study director, Christopher Mackie, for his tireless work and enthusiasm, which propelled us forward.
Finally, and most importantly, a note of appreciation is in order for my fellow panel members. This report reflects the collective expertise and commitment of all panel members: Tim Beatty, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis; Sofia Berto Villas-Boas, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Berkeley; F. Jay Breidt, Department of Statistics, Colorado State University; Craig Gundersen, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois; Michael Link, Division for Data Science, Surveys & Enabling Technologies, Abt Associates; Bruce D. Meyer, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, The University of Chicago; Amy O’Hara, McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University; Eric B. Rimm, Department of Epidemiology and Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Nora Cate Schaeffer, Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Diane W. Schanzenbach, Institute for Policy Research and School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University; Parke E. Wilde, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University; and James P. Ziliak, Center for Poverty Research, University of Kentucky. This group—chosen for their diverse perspectives, back-
grounds, and subject matter knowledge—gave generously of their time to attend meetings and to apply their expertise in the writing of this report.
This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies in making each published report as sound as possible and to ensure that it meets the institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Scott W. Allard, Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Washington; Alessandro Bonanno, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Colorado State University; Alicia L. Carriquiry, Department of Statistics, Iowa State University; Randy Green, Food and Agriculture and Public Affairs, Watson Green, LLC, Washington, DC; Danny O. Jacobs, President’s Office, Oregon Health Sciences University; Barbara A. Laraia, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley; William Layden, School of Public Health, Indiana University; Robert A. Moffitt, Department of Economics, Johns Hopkins University; Mary K. Muth, Food and Agricultural Policy Research, RTI International; and Robert L. Santos, Chief Methodologist’s Office, The Urban Institute.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of the report was overseen by Mary Ellen Bock (professor emeritus), Purdue University, and Barbara Schaal, professor, Washington University in St. Louis. They were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.
Marianne P. Bitler, Chair
Panel on Improving Consumer Data for Food and Nutrition Policy Research for the Economic Research Service
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