Tuesday, August 23, 2005

National Academies recommend improvements to food assistance research data

A forthcoming report from the National Academies, already available online, makes strong recommendations for improvements to the data resources for research on food assistance and nutrition programs. The panel, which was chaired by John Karl Scholz from the University of Wisconsin and included top national leaders in food economics and nutrition, proposed a new inter-agency working group for food assistance data. The panel suggested that the new working group be led by the Office of Management and Budget or jointly led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services (reading between the lines, the panel is not recommending that the working group be led by USDA on its own).

The panel also strongly encouraged research that combines the strengths of survey data sets with adminstrative data sets from the food assistance programs. The survey data sets often have small samples, but they offer detailed insights into many aspects of respondents' food situation (for example, a wealth of nutrition information in NHANES, a wealth of spending detail in the CEX, and so forth). The administrative data often have immense samples (for example, all food stamp participants in the state of California), and they often have good data on income and program benefits, but they usually lack information about the outcomes of interest (whether food spending or nutrition outcomes). Using both kinds of data together is fairly rare, and the projects that do so produce some of the very best available food assistance research.

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