Meet Our Partners: INDDEX



Meet Jennifer Coates, PhD

My name is Jennifer Coates, and I am writing in my role as Principle Investigator of the International Dietary Data Expansion (INDDEX) Project, which is housed at the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, where I am also a faculty member. 


Tell us about INDDEX's origin, mission, and work.

The idea for INDDEX stemmed from recognition that information on individual food consumption in low- and middle-income countries remains very scarce and underused due to the perceived high cost and complexity of collection and analysis of dietary data and the lack of sufficient infrastructure (such as food composition tables) and trained personnel.

Fortunately, global momentum has been growing over the past five years in support of obtaining higher quality, more frequently collected, quantitative dietary data.  Support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is enabling INDDEX and other related initiatives to strengthen the capacity of countries and individual researchers to collect and use dietary data to generate evidence-based policies in the context of rapidly transitioning global and national food systems.

INDDEX has worked since 2015 to address many types of barriers to dietary data collection and use in low and middle income countries.  Examples of INDDEX solutions include:

  • Developing technologies (INDDEX24) and supporting data repositories (FAO/WHO GIFT) to standardize and streamline the collection, analysis, and use of individual-level dietary data;
  • Improving the design and use of household consumption and expenditure surveys (HCES) and food balance data for food consumption analysis;
  • Upgrading regional food composition data;
  • Demonstrating how to use 'fit-for-purpose’ indicators and analyses appropriately from dietary intake surveys, HCES, and food balance data through the Data4Diets resource; and
  • Supporting global stakeholders to apply these methodological and technical advances for their own policy objectives.


What is the biggest challenge INDDEX faces in completing its mission?

One of the thorniest challenges for dietary assessment is the lack of detailed information in most countries on the nutrient composition of foods in their food supply.  Many national food composition databases, when they exist, have not been able to keep pace with the explosion of food products and preparation methods that affect the translation of food consumption data into an understanding of the nutritive constituents in that food, with huge implications for accurately understanding diet-disease relationships, among other outcomes of interest. 


How does GDD fit into INDDEX's work and mission?

One thrust of INDDEX is to support the increased collection and generation of dietary data.  A second and third objective is ensure that dietary data is more accessible to researchers and decision-makers and used to take policy actions that support human and planetary well-being.   The GDD project is also very focused on improving data accessibility and use, by collecting and aggregating dietary factors from surveys conducted in countries around the world. Thus, INDDEX efforts should result in increased availability of data that can be publicly shared through the GDD platform.  Our projects tackle complementary aspects of the data value chain.


What are you aiming to jointly achieve in partnership with GDD?

We aim to work in partnership with GDD to share data and methods, jointly publish thoughtful critiques about the dietary assessment landscape and analytical studies, and maintain contact with a community of practitioners who can contribute to expanding existing data repositories.


What directions or results do you hope to see in the field of global nutrition research in the future?

This is a broad question but, in keeping with mandate of our project, I would like to see researchers no longer shy away from collecting dietary data to inform a slew of critical policy-relevant questions in the fields of health, nutrition, agriculture, and the environment.  Until recently, the narrative has been that dietary data are too costly and time-consuming to collect.  Not only is that challenge now less true, but it also should not prevent researchers from understanding one of the most essential of all human activities, practiced routinely by billions of people around the world, at the core of our very existence. Diet-related analysis in global nutrition research should become as routinized and prioritized as the basic human function of eating food.

Jennifer Coates, PhD

Many thanks to Jennifer Coates for participating in this quarter's Meet Our Partners. We invite you to visit INDDEX's website and follow the group on Twitter @INDDEXProject.