June 10, 2015

Healthy Food for a Healthy World: Measuring Impact and Closing Data Gaps

Albert Gonzalez Farran/UN Photo

On April 16, The Chicago Council launched a new report, Healthy Food for a Healthy World: Leveraging Agriculture and Food to Improve Global Nutrition, at the Global Food Security Symposium 2015. Each week, we will highlight one of the report’s recommendations in a new post on the Global Food for Thought blog. This blog series explores how the strengths and ingenuity of the agriculture and food sector can reduce the reality and risks of malnutrition globally. Watch for a new post each Wednesday, and join the discussion using #GlobalAg.

It is clear that agriculture is integral to improving global nutrition: yet the scientific evidence to date supporting the nutritional impacts of agriculture programs at scale is limited. Studies have been hampered by weak research designs and small sample sizes that have prevented them from detecting potentially important changes in nutrition outcomes from these programs. Evidence is critically important to designing and implementing more effective programs with improved nutrition outcomes. Targeted investments in more rigorous evaluation designs are needed for programs with unique opportunities for learning that can advance the knowledge base.

Initiatives funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to monitor and evaluate the nutrition and health impacts of agriculture and food systems programs should continue and be strengthened. USAID’s Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy provides a strong framework for monitoring and evaluating the nutrition impacts of its diverse programs across domains of gender, equity, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness. Adequate support to fully implement this strategy should be a top priority.

Regular data collection disaggregated by gender and age on the nutrition and health status of populations is also important. Surveillance data such as the Demographic and Health Surveys that collect periodic, nationally representative data on important health and nutrition indicators in low- and middle-income countries are widely used. The data help track country progress on meeting specific health and nutrition goals, identifying at-risk populations, targeting resources, and informing and evaluating policies. Continued US government support for the collection of these data and other surveillance efforts such as the World Bank Living Standards Measurement Study surveys is paramount.

At the same time, data sets that integrate sufficient and rigorously collected data across the domains of agriculture, food systems, nutrition, and health are desperately needed, as few such data sets exist. Investments in the regular collection of nationally representative data to inform such integrated data sets would substantially strengthen research capacity to examine and address food and health policy questions.

Ultimately, there are simply still too many unknowns about nutrition and nutrition-sensitive food systems. Governments, businesses, international organizations, universities, and civil society should work to close the following data gaps:
  • integrated household-level data sets that include rigorously collected information on agricultural production, labor and income, food system activities, diet, and nutrition and health outcomes (Such data, especially if collected at regular intervals and with some households followed longitudinally over time, would help to address many questions regarding the influence of food systems on nutrition and health. In addition to new data collection efforts, there is considerable potential to strengthen the integrated assessment of agriculture, diet, and nutrition in existing household surveys.);
  • data and methods to understand the nature and scale of investments in food systems needed for populations to meet dietary recommendations;
  • national-level data on the production and availability of specific fruits and vegetables;
  • more complete dietary data from national level surveys that regularly monitor health and nutrition, including data on consumption of specific foods, including foods consumed away from home;
  • data on the expected and actual coverage of specific agriculture and food systems programs with the potential to influence nutrition and health outcomes;
  • research and development investment data disaggregated by crop as well as by whether the investment is in breeding, crop management, or postharvest along with additional monitoring of investments by the CGIAR and other donors and governments.
The more data that are available, the better we can track, measure, and improve global nutrition around the world.



The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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