A New Indicator for Global Assessment of Dietary Diversity Among Women

As the forthcoming Global Nutrition Report highlights, there are many data gaps that impede progress in nutrition. Among them is the scarcity of nationally representative data describing dietary intakes and diet quality. Given the complexity and cost of any accurate quantitative assessment of dietary intakes, there is a clear need for simple proxy indicators that can be incorporated into large-scale surveys.

Dietary diversity is well recognised as an important dimension of dietary quality. In resource-poor countries, food group diversity, measured by the number of food groups consumed over 24 hours, has been shown to reflect the micronutrient density of infant/young child diets as well as micronutrient adequacy for women of reproductive age. However, while a “minimum dietary diversity” (MDD) indicator of 4 or more food groups out of 7 has been internationally recommended since 2008 for infants and young children, until now, there has not been a comparable indicator for women.

The Women’s Dietary Diversity Project, a collaborative research initiative analysing datasets from a range of settings in Africa and Asia, was designed to respond to this need. Two candidate food group indicators were identified that reflected women’s MMD and were associated with micronutrient adequacy of the diets. In July 2014, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance III Project (FANTA) convened a consensus meeting in Washington to select and endorse a valid indicator for global assessment of dietary diversity for women of reproductive age.

1 All starchy staple foods
2 Beans and peas
3 Nuts and seeds
4 Dairy
5 Flesh foods
6 Eggs
7 Vitamin A-rich dark green leafy vegetables
8 Other vitamin A-rich vegetables and fruits
9 Other vegetables
10 Other fruits

Meeting participants from academia, international research institutes, and UN and donor agencies, reached a unanimous decision to select and recommend the adoption of a dichotomous food group diversity indicator with a threshold of at least five out of ten food groups (see table).

This new indicator, called “Minimum dietary diversity - women (MDD-W) Sept 2014 (2)”  (MDD-W), provides a tool for assessment, target-setting and advocacy.  Information on the quality of women’s diets obtained from this new indicator should make an important contribution towards developing programmatic and policy actions to improve diets.

Guidance on operationalising the indicator will be forthcoming. More information is available here