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Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Jun;105(6):1336-1343. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.148775. Epub 2017 Apr 26.

Correspondence of folate dietary intake and biomarker data.

Author information

Departments of Nutrition Science and
Office of Dietary Supplements, NIH, Bethesda, MD.
Nutrition Impact LLC, Battle Creek, MI; and.
National Center for Environmental Health, CDC, Atlanta, GA.
Departments of Nutrition Science and.
Statistics, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.


Background: Public health concerns with regard to both low and high folate status exist in the United States. Recent publications have questioned the utility of self-reported dietary intake data in research and monitoring.Objectives: The purpose of this analysis was to examine the relation between self-reported folate intakes and folate status biomarkers and to evaluate their usefulness for several types of applications.Design: We examined usual dietary intakes of folate by using the National Cancer Institute method to adjust two 24-h dietary recalls (including dietary supplements) for within-person variation and then compared these intakes with serum and red blood cell (RBC) folate among 4878 men and nonpregnant, nonlactating women aged ≥19 y in NHANES 2011-2012, a nationally representative, cross-sectional survey, with respect to consistency across prevalence estimates and rank order comparisons.Results: There was a very low prevalence (<1%) of folate deficiency when serum (<7 nmol/L) and RBC (<305 nmol/L) folate were considered, whereas a higher proportion of the population reported inadequate total dietary folate intakes (6%). Similar patterns of change occurred between intakes and biomarkers of folate status when distributions were examined (i.e., dose response), particularly when diet was expressed in μg. Intakes greater than the Tolerable Upper Intake Level greatly increased the odds of having high serum folate (OR: 17.6; 95% CI: 5.5, 56.0).Conclusions: When assessing folate status in the United States, where fortification and supplement use are common, similar patterns in the distributions of diet and biomarkers suggest that these 2 types of status indicators reflect the same underlying folate status; however, the higher prevalence estimates for inadequate intakes compared with biomarkers suggest, among other factors, a systematic underestimation bias in intake data. Caution is needed in the use of dietary folate data to estimate the prevalence of inadequacy among population groups. The use of dietary data for rank order comparisons or to estimate the potential for dietary excess is likely more reliable.


NHANES; dietary assessment; folate; folic acid; measurement error; prevalence

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