Food environments are inclusive of all food sources, activities, and products that surround all of us in our everyday lives. Assessing food environments is an important step towards ensuring families have healthy, diverse diets. However, the majority of current food environment assessments have been developed and validated in high-income countries and may not be appropriate for food environments in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). For example, a recently developed food environment typology recognizes that the food environment consists of the natural (wild and cultivated) and built (informal and formal market)—not all of which are typically found in high-income countries. In many cases, informal markets are found in rural areas of LMICs, as opposed to more formal markets in high-income countries.
To minimize this typological gap, USAID Advancing Nutrition established a list of market-based assessments for USAID Missions to use when developing their programs. The team began by identifying 110 market-based assessments and categorized them under the eight food environment dimensions. It then conducted a series of ranking exercises, consulting experts in food environment measurement to shorten that list to priority dimensions. Experts ranked availability, accessibility, price, and affordability as the most important in evaluating and understanding food environments in LMICs. They also recommended an approach that combines market-level vendor audits and market basket analysis with consumer surveys, focus groups, and mapping.
By conducting these assessments in LMICs, USAID Missions can better understand market-based barriers and opportunities for supporting healthy and safe diets year-round. They can use evidence from the assessments to inform the design, implementation, and monitoring of food system programs that are context-specific and culturally relevant.