University of Reading (Measuring energy expenditure)

New Keys for Old Black Boxes: Developing Methods to Improve Nutrition Assessment by Measuring Energy Expenditure

PI: Giacomo Zanello
Start date: 5 December 2016
Duration: 24 months
Value: £249,626
Countries of research: Ghana, India, Nepal, and UK

Project summary

The limited uptake of agricultural innovations with proven productivity-enhancing potential and the translation of productivity increases into improvements in nutrition are two major challenges facing Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) [1, 2, 3, 4]. Assessments of the impacts of agricultural interventions in LMICs have been largely confined to examining productivity increases. However, it has been recognised that the uptake of innovations may be significantly influenced by human energy expenditure and time-use patterns linked to the use of innovations. Further, the impact of increased productivity on nutrition for individual members of agricultural households may be mediated by gender-differentiated intra-household labour and consumption allocation decisions [5]. Incorporating the human energy expenditure dimension in analyses of the uptake of agricultural innovations and their nutrition impacts has been constrained by a lack of reliable robust empirical measurement of energy expenditure associated with agricultural activities in free-living populations.

This research will take advantage of advances in accelerometry technologies to generate rigorous energy expenditure profiles associated with agricultural and livelihood activities. Recent advances have led to development of rugged wearable accelerometry devices suitable for use in the context of rural/agricultural occupations. These allow non-intrusive data collection, requiring no user inputs, facilitating scaled-up empirical measurement of energy expenditure in rural free-living populations. The proposed project which builds on a small pilot study being currently undertaken with seed funding from the University of Reading will be undertaken in rural settings in three countries – India, Nepal and Ghana – across a range of agro-climatic conditions and agricultural systems with diverse cropping patterns, technology and input use. Energy expenditure profiles associated with agricultural and livelihood activities will be generated through an innovative integration of accelerometry data from wearable devices checked against daily physical activity questionnaires administered to the respondents. The link to nutrition outcomes will be made through collection of dietary intake data from the same respondents. The study will be undertaken in collaboration with Tufts University USA, the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj in India and with the University for Development Studies in Ghana bringing together interdisciplinary expertise in food economics, nutrition and agricultural and rural development and experience in survey design and data collection in developing country contexts.

The methodologies and approaches developed through this research are aimed at facilitating a better understanding of (1) the prevalence, depth and severity of undernutrition in rural areas in developing countries (2) the intra-household, gender differentiated labour allocation and energy expenditure patterns associated with productivity-enhancing agricultural interventions (e.g., adoption of new agricultural technologies or practices) and (3) the link between agricultural development interventions and nutrition outcomes for different members of rural households).