Household Consumption and Expenditure Surveys (HCES)



Household Consumption and Expenditure Surveys (HCES), also referred to by a variety of other names including Household Income and Expenditure Surveys (HIES), Household Budget Surveys (HBS), or Living Standards Measurement Surveys (LSMS), are complex surveys conducted on a nationally representative sample to characterize important aspects of household socio-economic conditions. The results of such surveys have wide-ranging utility; however their primary purpose is to provide information for poverty monitoring, the calculation of national accounts, and as an input for consumer price indices. The food data collected in HCES can be analyzed to produce a variety of food security and nutrition indicators but the data are collected at the household, not the individual, level.


HCES are heterogeneous across countries and it is important to understand some of the key differences before leveraging HCES for food security and nutrition purposes. Some sources of variability that affect the food consumption data include recall period, the number of food items, and level of disaggregation of the food list. Another additional important source of variability is whether surveys collect acquisition data, consumption data or a combination of both. Surveys that collect data on acquisition are a proxy for food consumption, as households may build food stocks or consume food stocks during the reference period, as compared to consumption based surveys which collect data on food consumed in a specified recall period. Both of these types (acquisition and consumption) collect information on food that is purchased, own-produced, or received as a transfer. A third type of HCES collects a combination of acquisition and consumption data wherein households report what they acquired through purchases and what they consumed from own-production and transfers. Food consumption estimates generated from acquisition data or a combination of both acquisition and consumption data are typically referred to as “apparent consumption”.

HCES are conducted every 3-5 years in most industrialized countries. Most HCES are implemented by national statistical agencies, often with technical assistance from the World Bank’s Living Standard Measurement Study (LSMS) group. The World Bank maintains a repository of LSMS survey data sets that are freely accessible for download and use. Additionally, the International Household Survey Network (IHSN) provides tools for the harmonization of surveys and the improved accessibility and use of the resulting data.


  • Data are publicly available, free to use, and updated at regular intervals
  • Longer recall period makes it more suitable for assessing “usual intake”
  • Surveys are nationally representative and sometimes representative at provincial and district levels
  • Depending on country, HCES provides information on trends due to routine collection of data (~5 years)


  • To capture seasonal variation, the survey must be repeated in multiple seasons
  • Primary purpose is to inform poverty indices, national accounts, and consumer prices indices not to measure food consumption
  • HCES only frequently only measures “apparent consumption”
  • Only provides a household level measure, but information on individual level consumption can be estimated by applying the assumptin of Adult Male Equivalents

Key take-away points: Methods and types of indicators that can and cannot be derived with these data:

There are a number of ways that HCES data can be leveraged for food security and nutrition analyses. Some specific examples include:

  • HCES data can be used to model the potential reach and coverage of food fortification programs, however depending on the survey these data do not always identify food items specifically enough to accurately calculate nutrient content or to determine if they are suitable fortification vehicles
  • There are a number of indicators that can be calculated with existing HCES data, including household of energy, macronutrients, and micronutrients
  • Depending on the specificity of the food list, ultra-processed food consumption can be measured, amongst other things
  • Individual consumption can be estimated by applying the Adult Male Equivalent to the household data in order to obtain an individual level estimate


1) International Household Survey Network:

2) World Bank Living Standards Measurement Study - Integrated Surveys on Agriculture:,,...

3) Smith et al. (2014), Assessment of the Reliability and Relevance of the Food Data Collected in National Household Consumption and Expenditure Surveys:

4) Coates et al. (2012), Applying Dietary Assessment Methods for Food Fortification and Other Nutrition Programs:

5) Fiedler (2016), Household Consumption and Expenditure Surveys: A tool for bringing more evidence and accountability to food and nutrition programs and policymaking

6) Weissell and Dop (2012), The adult male equivalent concept and its application to HCES: