Using accelerometers in low- and middle-income countries: A field manual for practitioners

After having followed 120 farmers in Ghana, India, and Nepal for almost 3,500 days across a whole agricultural season, an IMMANA funded project exploring the use of accelerometry-based technologies for measuring energy expenditure has published a field manual for practitioners. This new resource contains important lessons on how these innovative technologies open up potential new avenues to accurately measure energy expenditure, thereby complementing an important part of human health and nutrition research in low- and middle- income countries (LMICs). 

Accelerometers are wearable devices that have the potential to transform our understanding of the rural household economy by capturing key dimensions that have been largely ‘unobserved’. These small devices help to capture changes in patterns of human energy expenditure - an important but unmeasured (and therefore not very well understood) part of rural and agricultural life in LMICs. As a result, they provide a new evidence base for improved design of policy and programmatic interventions aimed at rural household economies in LMICs.

In collaboration with Tufts University (USA), the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (India), and with the University for Development Studies (Ghana), the project, led by University of Reading (UK), brought together interdisciplinary expertise in food economics, nutrition, agricultural and rural development alongside experience in survey design and data collection in developing country contexts.

Using Accelerometers in Low- And Middle-Income Countries: A Field Manual for Practitioners is intended to be a guidance document that points out the most critical issues for consideration as well as good practices in the survey design, collection, management, and analysis of aggregated accelerometry data. The manual can help policy makers and programme implementers see how accelerometry data, combined with other types of data, can improve the design, targeting, and evaluation of agricultural interventions to maximize health and nutrition outcomes.

The manual also offers a snapshot of three different applications of the technology by providing distinct examples of how accelerometry data can be interpreted and integrated with other sources of information. These examples are based on case studies from Ghana, Nepal and India.

Through this project, four key areas highlight how energy expenditure data can complement and augment research, programmes, and policy focused on improving the welfare of rural and agricultural households:

  1. Modelling energy expenditure data within an efficiency framework contributes to the notion of “energy-use efficiency” in rural livelihoods and its determinants. The protocols and methods presented in the field manual can be used to understand the short-term and long-term effects of ill health and disease on agricultural productivity and wage earnings.
  2. Combining energy expenditure data with food intake and time-use data creates more accurate assessments of the incidence, depth and severity of undernutrition and poverty. Energy expenditure profiles can provide a better understanding of the influence of livelihood strategies and activities, environmental factors (e.g., climate and temperature) and access to health and physical infrastructure on energy expenditure pattern. This, in turn can better inform targeting of nutrition interventions.
  3. Gender or age-differentiated impacts associated with the adoption of productivity-enhancing agricultural innovations can be better understood by harnessing intrahousehold data. The methodology described in the field manual can be used to understand gender differentiation in labour allocation decisions of rural households or in particular, how women’s labour could change with the adoption of an agricultural technology. Insights can also be gained into the trade-offs between different livelihood activities – for instance, the intensification of women’s labour in agriculture may involve reduced maternal time for childcare.
  4. Empirical measurement of energy expenditure profiles can help delineate the pathways of impact from agricultural growth to nutrition outcomes. The link between agricultural development and nutrition outcomes in LMICs is the focus of a number of research programmes. A better understanding of energy expenditure can shed light on the disconnect between gains in agricultural productivity and improvement in nutrition outcomes.

For more information about this IMMMANA-funded grant visit the project page:

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