Comparison between experience-based and household-undernourishment food security indicators: A cautionary tale

Luis A. Sandoval, Carlos E. Carpio, Manuel Garcia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Food security is a multi-dimensional concept that requires multiple indicators to measure it correctly; however, single food security indicators are often used individually or interchangeably. The misinterpretation of individual food security indicators can have important implications for policy design and implementation. The general objective of this paper is to show the discrepancies that may arise when using two different food security indicators that operate in the same dimension of the food security concept and yield the same outcome (food security status of the household) in three of the scenarios that they might be used: (1) for measuring the prevalence of food insecurity, (2) for understanding its drivers, and (3) for estimating the potential impact of a policy. The specific objectives of this paper are (1) to measure and compare the prevalence of food insecurity in a country using the Latin America Food Security Scale (ELCSA, by its acronym in Spanish) and the household undernourishment indicator, (2) to compare the factors associated with households’ food security status using the two indicators, and (3) to assess the potential use of the two indicators for ex ante policy analysis. Data for the study comes from the 2011 Survey of Living Standards from Guatemala, which collected all the data for estimating the ELCSA and the household level data required for calculating the household undernourishment indicator. Our results indicate considerable differences in the estimated prevalence of food insecurity at the national and regional levels using the two alternative indicators, with ELCSA resulting in higher estimates. Logistic regression models estimated to assess and identify household food insecurity drivers also found large differences in both the direction and magnitude of factors affecting food insecurity using the alternative food security indicators. Finally, the magnitude of the simulated impact of a cash transfer policy varied depending on the food indicator used.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3307
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Food security
  • Guatemala
  • Undernourishment


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