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The National Food Survey (NFS) ran from 1940-2000 and was the longest-running continuous survey of household food consumption and expenditure in the world. Originally set up in 1940 by the then Ministry of Food to monitor the adequacy of the diet of urban 'working class' households in wartime, it was extended in 1950 to become representative of households throughout Great Britain and from 1996, Northern Ireland. In later years the series was conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and covered household food and food purchasing, including a 7-day diary recording food and expenditure. The last wave of the NFS was conducted in 2000. From 2001, the NFS has been replaced by the Expenditure and Food Survey (EFS), which subsequently became the Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF) in 2008. The UK Data Archive holds NFS data from 1974-2000.
GN 33071 | National Food Survey, 1974-2000
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The National Food Survey (NFS), which closed in 2000, was the longest-running continuous survey of household food consumption and expenditure in the world. From 2001, the NFS was completely replaced by the Expenditure and Food Survey (EFS), which combined and superseded both the previous Family Expenditure Survey (FES) and the NFS. From 2008, the EFS became the Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF).
It was originally set up in 1940 by the then Ministry of Food to monitor the adequacy of the diet of urban 'working class' households in wartime, but it was extended in 1950 to become representative of households throughout Great Britain (the UKDA holds NFS data from 1974-2000 only). In 1996 the survey was extended to cover Northern Ireland, thus allowing results for the United Kingdom to be presented for the first time.
The NFS provided a wealth of information which made a major contribution to the study of the changing patterns of household food consumption. About 8,000 households took part in the NFS each year. The household member who did most of the food shopping was asked some questions about the household and its food purchasing. They were then asked to keep a diary for seven days, recording food coming into the household, including quantities and expenditure, and some detail of the household meals (including snacks and picnics prepared from household supplies).
The NFS has been conducted on an annual basis from 1940 to 2000 when it was replaced by the Family Expenditure Survey. Data are available from 1974 to 2000. ONS deposit the data on expenditure. Extra data and documentation for the food component of the study (including low-level food variables and food consumption/weight data) are deposited by DEFRA. These are added to the study when received. For a list of available datasets, please see the DATA ACCESS section of this webpage.
Each household which participated in the NFS did so voluntarily, and without payment, for one week only. By regularly changing the households surveyed, information was obtained continuously throughout the year except for a short break at Christmas. Each household was provided with a specially designed log-book in which the person principally responsible for domestic food arrangements provided information about each household. The main diary-keeper kept a record each day for seven days, with guidance from an interviewer, of all food entering the home intended for human consumption. Information about characteristics of the household and of its members was recorded on a separate questionnaire.
From 1994 an extension to the NFS covered food and drink consumed outside the home (i.e. not from household supplies), known as the 'Eating Out Extension'. The data are not available, as it was a limited experiment with mixed results, but it covered estimates of average consumption, expenditure and the nutritional value of food eaten out, classified by the same household characteristics as the main survey and also by personal characteristics such as age and gender. Further information is available on the DEFRA website.
Variable lists and PDF user guides (including questionnaires) are freely available in the documentation on the catalogue page of each survey. You can find a list of the surveys in the DATA ACCESS section of this webpage.
Yes. Information is held at the household level and individual level.
Prior to the inclusion of Northern Ireland in the survey (before 1996) there was no weighting. The weighting used in the National Food Survey for 1996-2000 accounts for the deliberate oversampling of Northern Ireland and for differential response rates among different household types. The weights are described in detail in the NFS User Guide, available among the documentation for each survey.
These are published in the official NFS reports which are available from a good academic library or from The Stationery Office. The latest NFS report (and some previous reports) are freely downloadable in PDF format from the DEFRA website.
Using the National Food Survey for teaching
See our teaching pages for practical information, exemplars, and tips for using UK Data Service data in teaching, including: