Flexible Consumer Behavior Survey


Since 2007, ERS has fielded the FCBS, which is 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 by administering household interviews and conducting medical examinations at mobile examination centers (MECs). During the medical examination, NHANES also administers a 24-hour dietary recall to obtain information about what people ate during the past 24 hours, making it possible to link eating habits to health outcomes such 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 3 to 10 days after the MEC appointment. The FCBS 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 third round (2011-12) are forthcoming, and the fourth round is now being fielded as part of the 2013-14 NHANES. The FCBS collects a range of information including the following:

  • Economic measures, such as monthly income, amount of family food expenditures, and whether the household participates in food and nutrition assistance programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children); and
  • Dietary and behavioral indicators, such as self-reported diet quality; types of foods available in the home; how often one eats out; time spent grocery shopping and time spent cooking meals at home; nutritional knowledge; use of food labels while grocery shopping and use of nutrition information when eating out; and the importance to the consumer of price, convenience, and taste when grocery shopping or eating out.

The 2005-06 NHANES contained a subset of questions from the full FCBS module. FCBS data are publicly available on NCHS's website.

For more information about NHANES, visit: www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes.htm

Selected results from the FCBS for 2009-10 and earlier years

ERS analyses of FCBS data provide insight into consumers' self-reported diet quality, awareness of Federal nutrition information programs, and 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 can be linked to food intake data as well as other health and behavioral indicators. In the figure below, differences between 2005-06 and 2009-10 are statistically significant for the categories of "good" and "poor."

Recent ERS research also found that Americans in 2005-08 were much less likely to rate the healthfulness of their diets as "excellent" or "very good" than they were in 1989-91. See:

How Americans Rate Their Diet Quality: An Increasingly Realistic Perspective

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

Awareness of Federal nutrition information programs

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 (predecessors to MyPyramid).

In the figure below, differences between 2007-08 and 2009-10 are not statistically significant.

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

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 healthful than food prepared at home. For example, compared with 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. The FCBS asked respondents how many FAFH meals they had consumed in the past seven days.

In the figure below, differences between 2007-08 and 2009-10 are statistically significant for the category "8 or more."

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