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Researchers Develop Improved Food Consumption Survey Method

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
June 14, 2004

A new method to precisely capture food consumption data during surveys has just been validated by Agricultural Research Service scientists.

Every day, health professionals, researchers and educators use data from a series of nationally representative surveys to help them spot and report key dietary patterns that affect consumers' health. Now ARS nutritionists have developed and tested a new method for achieving nearly total recall of what's been eaten. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

After years of research and planning, the ARS Food Surveys Research Group (FSRG), part of the Beltsville (Md.) Human Nutrition Research Center, produced a recall instrument that helps people remember and report the actual foods they ate over a 24-hour period, when surveyed. Accurately assessing the American diet is critical because many chronic diseases and health conditions are directly related to dietary intake, according to nutritionist Alanna Moshfegh, who heads FSRG.

The computer-assisted interviewing instrument is called the Automated Multiple-Pass Method, or AMPM for short. It consists of a specialized software program that is operated by highly trained interviewers who conduct the interview both in person and by telephone.

The 30-plus-member FSRG is in the process of analyzing results from a human research study, involving more than 500 volunteers, to test the accuracy of AMPM. Preliminary research findings based on data from 100 of the volunteers showed the method to be highly accurate; it enabled the volunteers to recall what they'd eaten to within 2 percent of the actual calories they used.

A critical innovation is the method's carefully crafted questions, which are launched as a series of five passes. For example, one pass defines and separates "eating occasions," and another pass ferrets out forgotten foods.

Read more about these findings in the June issue of Agricultural Research magazine.