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Public Health Nutr. 2002 Dec;5(6A):889-92.

Measuring food intake in studies of obesity.

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Göteborg University and Nordic School of Public Health, Sweden.


The problem of how to measure habitual food intake in studies of obesity remains an enigma in nutritional research. The existence of obesity-specific underreporting was rather controversial until the advent of the doubly labelled water technique gave credence to previously anecdotal evidence that such a bias does in fact exist. This paper reviews a number of issues relevant to interpreting dietary data in studies involving obesity. Topics covered include: participation biases, normative biases,importance of matching method to study, selective underreporting, and a brief discussion of the potential implications of generalised and selective underreporting in analytical epidemiology. It is concluded that selective underreporting of certain food types by obese individuals would produce consequences in analytical epidemiological studies that are both unpredictable and complex. Since it is becoming increasingly acknowledged that selective reporting error does occur, it is important to emphasise that correction for energy intake is not sufficient to eliminate the biases from this type of error. This is true both for obesity-related selective reporting errors and more universal types of selective underreporting, e.g. foods of low social desirability. Additional research is urgently required to examine the consequences of this type of error.

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