USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) co-sponsored the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to fill a critical data gap and support research that informs policymaking on key national priorities, including health and obesity, hunger, and nutrition assistance policy. The survey captures unique and comprehensive data about household food purchases and acquisitions, along with factors that influence household food choices, from a nationally representative sample. This page provides the following background information about the survey:

About the survey

FoodAPS is designed to support research about:

  • The interrelationships between U.S. households’ food acquisitions, factors influencing food demand, and household well-being; and 
  • How access to various types of food stores is related to food choices, food security, health, and obesity.

FoodAPS captures detailed information about purchases and acquisitions of food items intended for consumption at home and away from home, as well as foods acquired through USDA and other food and nutrition assistance programs. The data also include information about factors that affect food purchase decisions, such as the number and characteristics of people in the household, their available resources (including food and nutrition assistance program benefits, if any), and the array of stores and restaurants that are nearby.

The nationally representative sample of 4,826 households includes four distinct sub-groups, based on household income and participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP):

  • Households participating in SNAP,
  • Households with income below the poverty guideline but do not participate in SNAP,
  • Households with income at or above 100 percent and less than 185 percent of the poverty guideline but do not participate in SNAP, and
  • Households with income equal to or greater than 185 percent of the poverty guideline and do not participate in SNAP.

Mathematica Policy Research, a private research firm with experience conducting large-scale surveys, conducted the survey under contract to ERS. In the field, the survey was called the National Food Study for simplicity (see the Informational brochure). Each household participated in the data collection activities for one week.

Data collection

The survey was fielded between April 2012 and January 2013 and collected information about:

  • Quantities and expenditures for all at-home and away-from-home foods and beverages purchased and acquired from all sources by all household members over a seven-day period;
  • Eating occasions by all household members;
  • Household characteristics, including income, program participation, non-food expenditures, food security, health status, and diet and nutrition knowledge; and
  • Household access to food, including location of purchase and distance to food stores and restaurants.

Nutrient information about purchased food as well as local retail environmental information were merged into the data set based on scanned barcodes, product descriptions, and household locations.

For more details about the data collection efforts, see Documentation

What's next?

Local food environments are subject to change, and with change, new data are needed to capture the evolving food environment. Contributing to changes in the food environment are factors such as:

  • Existing food stores and restaurants may change ownership or go out of business, and new stores and restaurants enter the marketplace, often with different formats, food offerings, and price structures.
  • Federal (and State) food and nutrition assistance programs may change in terms of eligibility requirements, benefits offered, and other regulations.
  • The composition of the U.S. household is ever-changing with respect to size, number and age of children and seniors, employment status and income, tastes and preferences for food, and nutrition knowledge. 

FoodAPS-1 was innovative in its data collection strategies, providing lessons for other surveys. 

Data releases

Restricted-use data files and documentation have are available to users on a secure data enclave. Please see the Main Variable List for what is available. For more information about accessing restricted-use data files, see Data Access.

Public-use data files (PUF) are also available for download (see Overview). The public-use files are stripped of data that pose a possible disclosure risk, so these files have less detail than the restricted-use files. However, depending on the analysis to be conducted, the PUF data may be sufficient.

Recommended citation

Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS).

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) control number is 0536-0068, and the ICR reference number is 201112-0536-001.