The Nature of Nutritional Surveillance Data in Developing Countries

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Information collected as part of a nutritional surveillance system should include not only documentation of the nutritional problems but also an analysis of their direct and indirect causes. A conceptual framework, such as that of UNICEF, for understanding the causes of malnutrition should be used to determine the types of information that are needed. The exact information needed therefore may be context specific, depending on what preexisting information is available. The following are examples: (1) If recent national data show an adequate national food supply, but a high prevalence of malnutrition in children younger than 5 years of age still exists in the country, information related to household food security, individual food consumption, as well as other causes of childhood malnutrition such as infections may be needed; and (2) if the prevalence of obesity has increased recently in a country, information on dietary intake and physical activity patterns will be needed to understand the causes of this increase and to design appropriate interventions.

Details of different methods to collect data at the national, household, and individual level are described in the previous article and will not be reviewed here. Rather, this article focuses on some of the specific strengths, limitations, and applications of each type of data as they apply to nutritional surveillance in developing countries and describes some additional methods that have been adapted for use in developing countries.

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