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Photo: Nutrition expert uses different measuring devices to explain the importance of portion sizes in food consumption surveys. Link to photo information
Innovations in food consumption survey methods that increase the accuracy of the ongoing national food intake survey, What We Eat In America, have been validated in a newly published study. Click the image for more information about it.

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Improving Food Survey Methods

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
September 11, 2008

A study that provides an important indicator of the accuracy of the latest innovations in food consumption survey methods has been published by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Beltsville, Md.

During dietary surveys, people are asked to report which foods--and how much of those foods--they have eaten. When people answer, some may actually have consumed more or less food than they were able to recall. This is a key concern to ARS scientists who develop and oversee the ongoing national food intake survey, What We Eat In America.

Researchers at the ARS Food Surveys Research Group (FSRG) headed by nutritionist Alanna Moshfegh developed a computer-assisted dietary recall method called the Automated Multiple-Pass Method, or AMPM for short. The method involves a five-step interview process used to inquire about all eating occasions and all foods consumed during the previous 24-hour eating period.

The study, involving more than 500 male and female volunteers, was conducted to test the accuracy of the AMPM. Researchers used what's called the doubly labeled water technique to measure total energy expenditure--the current "gold standard" for measuring actual calories burned. This measurement was used to compare actual calories burned to calorie intakes estimated from three dietary interviews using the AMPM.

This study confirmed the effectiveness of the AMPM. Research findings show the method enabled the volunteers to recall what they'd eaten to within 11 percent of the actual calories they used as a sample group.

Among volunteers who were classified as normal weight, the ability to recall total calories eaten was highly accurate, to within less than 3 percent of the actual calories used on a group basis.

The scientists noted that more research is needed to enhance the accuracy of methods for surveying food consumption among overweight and obese people.

FSRG is part of the ARS Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center.

The study was published in the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

ARS is a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.