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Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey

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In 2005, ERS established the Consumer Data and Information Program (CDIP) partly to address the growing need for improved collection of food consumption data (see The Consumer Data and Information Program: Sowing The Seeds of Research). Through CDIP, data are collected for research that seeks to improve our understanding of how consumer behavior and market dynamics shape diet quality and health outcomes. Under the CDIP initiative, ERS has partnered with the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) to design the Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey (FCBS).

Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey

Since 2007, ERS has fielded the FCBS, a consumer behavior module in NCHS's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). NHANES collects a variety of health data on the U.S. population through household interviews and medical examinations conducted at mobile examination centers. During the medical examination, NHANES also administers a 24-hour dietary recall to obtain information about what people eat, making it possible to link eating habits to such health outcomes as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Because the FCBS is based on a nationally representative sample, the survey results reflect national trends about changing food habits, attitudes, and dietary behaviors of U.S. consumers.

The FCBS is part of the NHANES household interview as well as part of a follow-up telephone interview that is administered after respondents complete the dietary recall. The household interview questions do not change from one survey year to the next, but the telephone interview was designed to be flexible so that new topical questions could occasionally replace older questions.

Data from the first round (2007-08) and second round (2009-10) of the FCBS are available. Data from the recently completed third round (2011-12) are forthcoming, and the fourth round is now being conducted as part of the 2013-14 NHANES. The FCBS collects information on topics that include participation in food and nutrition assistance programs; family food expenditures at home and away from home; nutritional knowledge; use of food labels and nutritional information; and the importance to consumers of factors such as price, convenience, and taste while shopping for groceries or dining out.

The 2005-06 NHANES contained a subset of questions from the complete FCBS module, and the data are publicly available on NCHS's website:

Information collected by the FCBS include the following:

  • Economic measures, such as family food expenditures, monthly income, and food and nutrition assistance program participation;
  • Dietary and behavioral indicators, such as self-assessed diet quality, types of foods available in the home, and frequency of eating out; and
  • Time spent grocery shopping and cooking meals at home.

For more information about NHANES, visit:

Selected results from the 2009-10 FCBS

ERS analyses of FCBS data provide insight into consumers' self-assessments of diet quality, their awareness of Federal nutrition information programs, and their frequency of eating out. ERS compared 2009-10 FCBS results with those of previous FCBS rounds in the following three categories:

Self-assessed diet quality

The 2009-10 FCBS included the question, "In general, how healthy is your overall diet?" This question is designed to evaluate how Americans assess their own diets, which, in turn, can be linked to food intake data as well as other health and behavioral indicators. Recent ERS research found that Americans in 2005-08 were much less likely to rate their diets as "excellent" or "very good" in terms of healthfulness than in 1989-91 (see How Americans Rate Their Diet Quality: An Increasingly Realistic Perspective).

Changes between 2005-06 and 2009-10 in response to the question, "In general, how healthy is your overall diet?" were statistically significant for the categories of "good" and "poor." 

Chart data

16x16 - Excel View responses to the question by demographic characteristics in Excel format. 

Federal nutritional information program awareness

The FCBS asked respondents about their awareness and use of Federal nutrition guides. In the 2009-10 FCBS, respondents were asked whether they had heard of MyPyramid (the nutrition guideline at that time) and, if so, whether they had tried to follow it. If a respondent had not heard of MyPyramid, he or she was then asked if he/she had heard of the Food Pyramid or Food Guide Pyramid (predcessors to MyPyramid).

Chart data

16x16 - Excel View responses to the question "Have you heard of MyPyramid, the Food Pyramid, or the Food Guide Pyramid?" by demographic characteristics in Excel format.

16x16 - Excel View responses to the question "Have you tried to follow the MyPyramid plan or another Pyramid plan recommended for you?" by demographic characteristics in Excel format.

Food-away-from-home frequency

On average, food away from home (FAFH), such as fast food and restaurants meals, is less healthy than food prepared at home. FAFH meals contain more calories per eating occasion (meals and snacks) and are higher in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol but lower in dietary fiber, calcium, and iron on a per-calorie basis than food prepared at home. The FCBS asked respondents how many FAFH meals they consumed in the past seven days.

Changes between 2007-08 and 2009-10 in response to the question, "During the past 7 days, how many meals did you get that were prepared away from home?" were statistically significant for the category "8 or more."

Chart data

16x16 - Excel View responses to the question by demographic characteristics in Excel format.

Last updated: Tuesday, February 04, 2014

For more information contact: Tobenna D. Anekwe

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