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Who is Hungry in this House?

The Household Hungers Scale (HHS) gives an objective understanding of how widespread food insecurity and hunger are in different cultures. (Photo: FAO/ Celis)
An Interview with Terri Ballard about the Household Hunger Scale (HHS)
30 Jun 2011,

Terri Ballard - a FAO food and nutrition security analyst who has helped develop the Household Hunger Scale (HHS) - talks about measuring hunger in households.

The Household Hunger Scale was developed to measure hunger in different cultural contexts. How is this scale different from others which measure hunger?

The HHS measures a household’s experiences of severe food insecurity which can lead to hunger. While there are many different ways of measuring hunger, such as the FAO undernourishment number, the Global Hunger Index, anthropometry and so on, this scale provides a direct account of what households experience in difficult situations. 

This scale is a shorter version of FANTA’s Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS). It was shown in a FAO/FANTA study to be a measure of household hunger that was consistent across different cultures.

Can you give an example of how people’s experiences with food insecurity vary across cultures? How did you choose the three questions that make up the Household Hunger Scale ?

We found that “worrying about not having enough food to eat” (question 1 in the HFIAS) is a concept that varies greatly.  Our work with HFIAS data from six countries showed that people started worrying about having not enough to eat at different levels of food insecurity in different countries. Sometimes people whose households were actually cutting back on meals weren’t necessarily worried or feeling anxious. 

In some cultures, people feel hungry if they have not eaten their traditional staple food ( rice, maize, grain) even if they may have eaten something else. It  was thus necessary to clarify  that we were referring to situations where people had not eaten any kind of food at all.

Our study of the HFIAS suggested that only the last three questions consistently performed in the same way across cultures. Experiences such as going to bed hungry or going a full day without eating anything at all are felt by people in the same way.

How can the Household Hunger Scale be used?

International organizations, regional bodies, and donors need information about the hungry to understand how well anti-hunger programmes are working. NGOs and others working with vulnerable populations can use the scale to understand which groups are most at risk, and whether their work has reduced  hunger.  

The HHS provides a quick of way measuring hunger in crisis situations, since it is very short and quick to use.

The HHS  is one of the outcome indicators for the US government’s  “Feed the Future” Programme. The International Food Security Classification Scale (IPC) has put it on the list of recommended tools.

What are the advantages of using the HHS ?

In addition to being valid across cultures, the questionnaire is very short and simple, which makes it easy to:

  • use in acute situations where a rapid assessment is necessary
  • include in longer survey questionnaires
  • analyze results quickly
What are you working on these days?

I am helping to organize an International Scientific Symposium on Food and Nutrition Security Information which will take place in Rome from January 17-19 2012. It will bring together experts and policy makers from around the world to:

  • see how we can more effectively measure food and nutrition security; and
  • link the information more closely to decision making processes.

The “Improved Global Governance for Hunger Reduction” programme is funded by the European Union with additional resources provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The programme is managed by FAO and collaborates with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP)”