National Data Sets

National Data Sets Useful in Food and Nutrition Assistance Research

ERS encourages research that makes appropriate use of existing, nationally representative data. Major sources of food-related data are summarized in a table by type of data (see Summary of Major Sources for Food-Related Data):

  • Store sales
  • Consumer purchases
  • Consumption
  • Availability
  • Other food-related

Examples of relevant surveys include:

The following provides brief descriptions of the data. Several of these data sets contain items related to food security, which has a distinct section on this page. For more information, see the associated web links.

American Time Use Survey (ATUS)

The ATUS, sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, interviews about 13,000 respondents age 15 or older annually. The survey provides nationally representative estimates of how, where, and with whom Americans spend their time. Over the 2006-2008 survey period, ERS sponsored the Eating and Health Module. The module contains questions on whether respondents ate or drank while engaged in other activities, such as driving or watching TV; general health, height, and weight; participation in the Food Stamp Program; children's consumption of meals obtained at school; grocery shopping and meal preparation; and household income. More information can be found on the ERS website—see Eating and Health Module (ATUS).

Catalogue of Surveillance Systems

The National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) has launched a new, free online resource to help researchers and practitioners more easily investigate childhood obesity in America. The Catalogue of Surveillance Systems describes in detail existing surveillance systems that collect data related to childhood obesity so that researchers can identify surveillance systems to meet their research and program needs; compare attributes across systems; find information about the systems; and link directly to the systems to download data or other information. The Catalogue provides one-stop access to more than 75 surveys and other data sets, allowing users to search and select surveys that provide a wealth of data at the National, State, and local levels on a range of variables, including school policies and health outcomes, as well as eating and exercise behaviors. Health officials at the city and State level also can find data related to their programs. For more information, see the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) website.

Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE)

The CE is an annual survey of household expenditures conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. The survey has three major objectives: (1) to provide information on consumer expenditures to support revisions to the Consumer Price Index market basket; (2) to provide a flexible set of data serving a wide variety of social and economic analyses; and (3) to provide a continuous body of detailed expenditure and income data for research purposes. The survey is comprised of two independent household components: a quarterly interview survey for broad expenditure categories and a weekly diary survey for small frequently purchased items, such as individual food items, gasoline, stamps, and other miscellaneous items. The data set includes information on age, race, sex, household size, income, geographic region, and Food Stamp Program participation. For more information, see the Bureau of Labor Statistics' CE website.

Current Population Survey (CPS)

The CPS is a large, nationally representative monthly survey that obtains information from approximately 50,000 households. The U.S. Census Bureau conducts the survey on behalf of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other Federal agencies that support the survey. The main purpose of the CPS is to provide estimates of employment, unemployment, and other characteristics of the general labor force. In addition to the labor force data, the March CPS Supplement provides detailed data on annual income and food assistance program participation; the income data are used to calculate State and national poverty estimates. Estimates of food security at the household level are developed using items on a CPS supplement that is sponsored by USDA. The food security supplement was introduced in April 1995. The supplement is fielded annually, although the month of administration varies from year to year. Information on the CPS and its supplements can be found on the Census Bureau's CPS website. Information on the CPS food security supplements can be found in the Economic Research Service's Food Security in the U.S. topic page.

Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B)

The ECLS-B is an ongoing nationally representative sample of about 12,000 children born during the year 2001 who were followed through the first grade. The study focused on factors affecting readiness for school, and information was collected each year from parents, teachers, birth records, and the children themselves. Study participants came from diverse socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds, with oversamples of children who were Asian and Pacific Islander, American Indian, or Chinese; twins; and children with low and very low birth weights. Information about these children was collected when the they were about 9 months old, 2 years old, 4 years old, and in kindergarten and first grade. Data items funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture relate to participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), as well as other USDA food assistance programs; infant feeding practices; children's household food security; and children's height and weight. The ECLS-B offers the opportunity to examine the relationship between children's participation in WIC and their cognitive performance and school progress and many other issues. For example, data from the ECLS-B may shed light on the relationship between infant feeding practices and childhood obesity. For more information, see the National Center for Educational Statistics' ECLS website.

Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K)

The ECLS-K is a longitudinal study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. The study followed a nationally representative sample of approximately 22,000 children from kindergarten through eighth grade. The children's parents, teachers, and schools were also participants in the study. The ECLS-K collected information on the children's cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development (i.e., height and weight); home environment and home educational practices; school environment, classroom environment, and classroom curriculum; participation in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Food Stamp Program; and household food security status. Information was collected in the Fall and Spring of kindergarten (1998-99), the Fall and Spring of first grade (1999-2000), the Spring of third grade (2002), fifth grade (2004), and eighth grade (2007). For more information, see the National Center for Educational Statistics' ECLS website.

FoodAPS National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS)

USDA's National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) is the first nationally representative survey of American households to collect unique and comprehensive data about household food purchases and acquisitions. Detailed information was collected about foods purchased or otherwise acquired for consumption at home and away from home, including foods acquired through food and nutrition assistance programs. FoodAPS also included the 30-day, 10-item Adult Food Security Survey Module. More information, data access, and documentation are available on the ERS website.

Food and Nutrition Service Program Operations Data

The Food and Nutrition Service Program Operations Data provide statistical information on aspects of all major Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) food and nutrition assistance programs. These programs include the Food Stamp Program; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); Child Nutrition Programs (National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care, Summer Food Service, and Special Milk); and Food Distribution Programs (Schools, Emergency Food Assistance, Indian Reservations, Commodity Supplemental, Nutrition for the Elderly, and Charitable Institutions). Four types of tables are provided: historical summaries, annual State-level data for selected elements, monthly national-level data for major programs, and State-level participation in major programs for the latest available month. The summaries begin with 1969, the year that FNS was established to administer USDA's food and nutrition assistance programs. FNS Program Operations Data are available on the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) website.

Food Security Data Information

ERS plays a leading role in Federal research on food security and hunger in U.S. households and communities. Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum (1) the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and (2) assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies). USDA has developed a standardized survey module for assessing food security status. This module is included on a number of national surveys, the most prominent of which is the Current Population Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau. For more information on national surveys that include the USDA food security module, see the Economic Research Service's Food Security in the U.S. topic page.

Food Stamp EBT Redemption Patterns National Database

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) contracted with Abt Associates to assemble a national sample of approximately 10,000 food stamp households per State.  The sample was drawn from FNS's nationwide Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) database, providing a record of the time, place, and amount of every purchase. Subsets of the data were linked with the Food Stamp Program's authorized retailer database to identify store characteristics and with the program's quality control database to identify household characteristics. Methods used to construct the database and detailed tables can be found on the FNS website.

Food Stamp Program Access Study Surveys (FSPAS)

The Food Stamp Program Access Study Surveys (FSPAS) were conducted in 2000 to provide a systematic and comprehensive look at how local program policies and procedures influenced potentially eligible households' participation in the Food Stamp Program. FSPAS is centered around a nationally representative sample of local food stamp offices. Samples of food stamp caseworkers and their supervisors were selected within the sampled offices and interviewed concerning local office policies and practices that might affect access to the FSP. For the geographic area served by each office, samples were drawn of food stamp eligible nonparticipants, food stamp applicants, households recertifying for food stamp benefits, and households leaving the FSP. Information was obtained about their socioeconomic characteristics, their relationship to the FSP, and their participation decisions. Details of the data collection methodology can be found in Chapter 2 of the FSPAS final report (see link below) and the public use dataset and documentation can be obtained from Laura Tiehen.

Food Stamp Program Access Study: Final Report

National Food Stamp Program Survey (NFSPS)

The NFSPS was conducted in 1996 by the Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. The survey collected information on client satisfaction with services provided by food stamp offices and agencies, the monetary and nonmonetary costs of participating in the Food Stamp Program (FSP), food shopping behaviors, items related to food security, and nutrient availability for a nationally representative sample of Food Stamp Program participants and potential participants. In addition, information on dietary knowledge and attitudes and a 7-day household food use record was collected from a subsample of 1,000 of these households. Approximately 1,000 nonparticipants were contacted through random digit dial sampling to gather information on their experiences with the FSP and their reasons for nonparticipation. For more information, see the NFSPS reports (available in PDF format) available on the FNS website.

National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)

NHANES is an ongoing survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The survey assesses the health and nutritional status of the population and monitors changes over time, especially in comparison with information from NHANES I, II, and III, which were conducted in earlier periods. A major objective of the survey's nutrition component is to provide data for nutrition monitoring purposes, including tracking nutrition, identifying risk factors related to food insecurity, and estimating the prevalence of compromised nutritional status. A second major objective is to provide information for studying the relationships among diet, nutritional status, and health. A dietary 24-hour recall is used to obtain dietary data. The data set variables include gender, age, race, ethnicity, income, education, employment, health insurance coverage, marital status, and food assistance program participation. Outcome variables of interest include numerous nutritional and health indicators, such as food and nutrient intake, dietary practices, body measurements, hematological tests, including iron status, biochemical analyses of whole blood and serum (including lipid, lipoproteins, lead, and glucose tolerance), blood pressure, electrocardiograms, urine tests, bone densitometry, dental examinations, gallbladder ultrasonography, and cognitive and physical functioning. For more information, see the NHANES website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

National Survey of America's Families (NSAF)

The NSAF, conducted by the Urban Institute, provides a comprehensive look at the well-being of adults and children. The survey provides quantitative quality-of-life measures and pays particular attention to low-income families. The survey is representative of the non-institutionalized, civilian population under age 65 in the Nation as a whole and in 13 States: Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Together, these 13 States are home to more than half the Nation's population and represent a broad range of fiscal capacities, child well-being, and approaches to government programs. For more information, see the Urban Institute's Lessons Learned From the National Survey of America's Families.

Nielsen Homescan Survey

Nielsen Homescan is a consumer-based survey of food purchases collected from a large, national panel of households. Panel members report the details of each food shopping occasion at a wide variety of store types, including traditional food stores, nontraditional food retailers (such as supercenters, warehouse clubs, and dollar stores), and online merchants. Panelists use a customized electronic device in their homes to scan the barcodes of the products they purchase and to record the quantity, date, store, and if the item was purchased on promotion or sale. The amount paid for each item is either entered by the household or obtained by Nielsen directly from the store. ERS has acquired Homescan data covering 1998 through 2005. Because the data are proprietary (owned by Nielsen), use of the data is subject to the terms and the conditions of the purchasing contract. The contract limits the use of the data to issues of interest to USDA and allows sharing the data with external researchers when they conduct USDA work. USDA-funded research agreements can use these data subject to the terms of the contract.

Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID)

The PSID, begun in 1968, is a longitudinal study of a representative sample of U.S. individuals and their families, including an oversampling of the low-income population. As families have grown and changed over time, the sample size has grown from 4,800 families in 1968 to 6,434 in 1999. A sample of 441 immigrant families was added in 1997. The PSID has collected information about more than 60,000 individuals spanning as much as 30 years of their lives. The central focus of the data is economic and demographic variables useful for research on dynamic processes. It contains substantial detail on income sources and amounts, employment, family composition changes, and residential location. Some waves of the study also included variables oriented more toward sociological or psychological research. The study is conducted at the Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan and has been supported over the years by funding from various government agencies, foundations, and other organizations. For more information, see the University of Michigan's PSID website.

School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS)

The School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS) is a national survey conducted periodically to assess school health policies and programs at the State, district, school, and classroom levels in elementary, middle/junior, and senior high schools. SHPPS is designed to answer the following three questions: (1) what are the characteristics of eight school health program components (health education, physical education and activity, health services, mental health and social services, food service, school policy and environment, faculty and staff health promotion, and family and community involvement) at the State, district, school, and classroom levels nationwide? (2) who is responsible for coordinating and delivering each component of the school health program and what kind of education and training have they received? and (3) what collaboration occurs among staff from each school health program component and with staff from State and local agencies and organizations? State-, district-, and school-level questionnaires were designed to collect information on State, district, and school policies and programs specific to each school health program component, with an emphasis on policy. Classroom-level questionnaires were designed to describe required instruction and techniques used in teaching health topics and physical education. The public-use data set for SHPPS 2006 is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information, see School Health Policies and Programs Study.

SNAP Data System

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Data System provides time-series data on State and county-level estimates of SNAP participation and benefit levels, combined with area estimates of total population and the number of persons in poverty. It also has an interactive web-based mapping application that maps program participation and benefit levels with county level detail for the States and the Nation.

SNAP Policy Database

The SNAP Policy Database provides a central data source for information on State policy options in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The database includes information on State-level SNAP policies relating to eligibility criteria, recertification and reporting requirements, benefit issuance methods, availability of online applications, use of biometric technology (such as finger-printing), and coordination with other low-income assistance programs. Data are provided for all 50 States and the District of Columbia for each month from January 1996 through December 2011.

SNAP Quality Control Data File (SNAP-QC)

The SNAP-QC database contains detailed demographic, economic, and program eligibility information for a nationally representative sample of approximately 50,000 SNAP units (a SNAP "household" is known technically as a "unit"). The SNAP-QC data are generated from monthly quality control (QC) reviews of SNAP cases that are conducted by State SNAP agencies to assess the accuracy of eligibility determinations and benefit calculations for the State's SNAP caseload. These data, which are produced annually, are ideal for tabulations of certain characteristics of SNAP units and for simulating the impact of various SNAP policy changes on current SNAP units. 

SNAP Retailer Locator

The SNAP Retailer Locator is a website maintained by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) that provides an interactive map showing locations of all SNAP retailers and a downloadable database of SNAP retailer records.

Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)

The main objectives of the SIPP are to collect information on income by source, employment, program participation and eligibility, and general demographic characteristics. This information is used to measure the effectiveness of existing Federal and State programs; to estimate future costs and coverage for government programs, such as food stamps; and to improve statistics on the U.S. distribution of income in the country. The U.S. Census Bureau, which conducts the SIPP, uses a longitudinal, multistage-stratified design to survey the civilian, non-institutionalized population of the United States. The sample size ranges from approximately 14,000 to 36,700 interviewed households, with the duration of each panel ranging from 2½ to 4 years. Variables include labor force behavior; income; participation in public programs; basic demographic characteristics; living arrangements; food adequacy or abbreviated food security module; participation at the individual level in the Food Stamp Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and participation at the household level in the free, reduced-price, and full-price categories of the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. For more information, see the Census Bureau's SIPP website.

Survey of Program Dynamics (SPD)

The SPD is a special extension of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) designed to look specifically at the effects of welfare reform. Congress mandated that the U.S. Census Bureau continue to collect data on the 1992 and 1993 panels of SIPP, as necessary, to obtain information on changes in participation in public assistance programs, employment, earnings, and measures of adult and child well-being. The data collected from the 1992 and 1993 SIPP panels provide 3 years of longitudinal baseline data prior to major welfare reform. The SPD's data include information on program eligibility, access, and participation; transfer income and in-kind benefits; food security; and detailed economic and demographic data on employment and job transitions, income, and family composition. The 3 years of SIPP data combined with the 7 years of SPD data will provide panel data for 10 years. For more information, see the Census Bureau's SPD website.

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