When the headlines talk about food prices rising, which foods are they actually talking about? Too often, they represent basic staple grains or a basket of foods unrelated to nutritional needs. A project called Indicators of Affordability of Nutritious Diets in Africa (IANDA) is working to change that. Researchers at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition, University of Ghana, Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are developing a new set of metrics on the availability and affordability of nutritious, diverse foods. They are working in Ghana and Tanzania to implement these new metrics in 2017.
Current food price indexes only reflect price changes of staple grains and lack data on nutrient-rich foods that compose a diverse, healthy diet. IANDA aims to develop the necessary tools to measure communities’ access to healthy food and provide more comprehensive information on food security levels throughout the year. By using the new set of metrics, policymakers and program planners will be able to better understand how availability and costs of nutritious diets fluctuate across geographies and seasons. IANDA researchers hope the information will help policymakers in agriculture, nutrition, and health “better diagnose and take action upon the nutrition challenges within the food system,” according to the project’s website.
In Ghana, the IANDA team is working with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to expand the list of foods for which price information is collected to include commonly-consumed, nutritious food items like leafy greens. The expanded list will allow researchers and policymaking partners to use the new metrics to calculate the cost of a minimally diverse diet, nutritionally adequate diet, and a diet following dietary recommendations.
“When food prices are measured, they don’t really reflect nutritious foods,” say lead researchers Anna Herforth and Jennifer Coates. “So this very basic metric that we all kind of accept, is actually not based on what people need to eat—and that’s the very core of access to adequate food. This project is aiming to shift the concept of food prices towards a more holistic, accurate sense of complete nutritious diets.”