Food security occurs when “all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for a productive and healthy life.” This definition of food security is founded on three fundamental elements: adequate food availability, adequate access to food by all people and appropriate food utilization/consumption. Food availability is derived from domestic agricultural output and net food imports at the national level. Food access is the ability of a household to acquire sufficient quality and quantity of food to meet all household members’ nutritional requirements for productive lives. Food utilization/consumption is determined by how much a person eats and how well a person converts food to nutrients, all of which affect proper biological use of food, nutritional status and growth.
In light of the complex, multi-dimensional nature of food security, it is generally agreed that separate indicators and data collection methods are needed to assess each of the three elements underlying food security attainment.2 Food balance sheets and anthropometric indicators provide well-established methods for attaining comparable measures of the availability and utilization/consumption components of food security. However, cross-culturally equivalent methods for assessing the access component are either unavailable or lack field practicality.
This report describes the findings from a validation study of the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS), a 9 item 4 frequency (9I 4F) measurement scale to assess the access component of household food insecurity in resource-poor areas. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)funded Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance (FANTA) project developed the HFIAS in 2006 with the aim to provide a simple tool that would provide statistically valid (internally valid), accurate and reliable information about the prevalence of food insecurity at a population level (externally valid) and directly comparable data upon use of the tool in diverse settings (cross-culturally valid).
In this study, we examine empirically the extent to which the objectives of internal, external and crosscultural validity have been achieved. To do so, we use seven HFIAS data sets collected in diverse contexts and countries: Mozambique (two data sets), Malawi, West Bank/Gaza Strip, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. We apply statistical methods based on the Rasch measurement model to assess the performance of the HFIAS and use the results of these analyses to revise the HFIAS, as necessary. To help interpret the empirical results, we also refer to qualitative feedback on the HFIAS provided by collaborators who contributed data to the study.