Quantitative indicators from a food expenditure survey can be used to target the food insecure in South Africa
Recent work on assessing household food insecurity has focused mainly on experiential-based measures using qualitative survey questions. In this paper, we employed two quantitative measures to estimate prevalence rates for household food insecurity in South Africa. One measure, termed food poverty, assessed whether the amount spent by a household on food was inadequate to purchase a low cost food plan. Low energy availability assessed whether the food energy available to a household, through its purchases and home production, was less than the sum of its members' recommended energy intakes. The 1995 Income and Expenditure Survey, a large representative survey of South African households (n = 28,704), was used for this secondary data analysis. Results showed that 43% of households were in food poverty in October 1995, and 55% had a low energy availability. These indicators allowed classification of households into four groups: food poverty only; low energy availability only; food insecure on both measures; and food secure. These groups differed on various aspects of household food consumption, suggesting that these indicators can be used to target different types of interventions to meet specific needs. Both bivariate and multivariate analyses showed that households that were food insecure on both measures were more likely to be in rural areas, have low incomes or large household sizes, and be headed by Africans or individuals of mixed ancestry. These patterns of food insecurity were corroborated by previous research on income poverty and nutritional status, suggesting that food poverty and low energy availability are useful, quantitative indicators for assessing food insecurity in South Africa.