Dietary intake assessment

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Child obesity research and dietary intake assessment

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Reporting what children eat and drink, how this changes in response to an intervention and examining factors that influence what children and adolescents eat and drink is crucial to understanding the energy imbalance associated with obesity. However, the challenges of this area of nutrition research, particularly relating to younger children and adolescents, means there is limited detailed dietary intake data arising from obesity prevention and treatment research in the published literature.

Despite the many difficulties and limitations, assessing dietary intake remains an important objective for researchers and practitioners working in the area of child obesity. It is acknowledged that there is a degree of uncertainty around the merits of different dietary assessment methods and in the selection of the best method for any particular circumstance. The Food and Nutrition Stream of the Australasian Child and Adolescent Obesity Research Network (ACAORN) aims to provide a simple guide for researchers and practitioners in selecting the most appropriate diet assessment method relevant to their objective.

In doing so, ACAORN is promoting

  • Inclusion of dietary outcomes in publications arising from child obesity research
  • Better quality diet assessment methodology in child obesity research (tools that are fit for purpose, valid and reliable)
  • Collaboration between researchers and practitioners on the topic of dietary assessment, to utilise nutrition expertise and where practical, enhance the ability to compare outcomes through the use of standardised methodology.

Resources to support dietary assessment within child obesity research and practice

The ACAORN Food and Nutrition Stream has developed a series of resources to help child obesity researchers and practitioners identify suitable outcomes of interest and determine an appropriate methodology for measuring this outcome in a variety of child and adolescent populations. The focus of these resources is to support research and practice in the area of child obesity.

  1. Diet Assessment Method Selection Guide - A series of matrices to guide selection of an appropriate outcome for the research question of interest and a quick reference point of considerations of choosing a particular tool when undertaking child obesity research. Where appropriate, the Medical Research Council (MRC) website (see side-bar) has been utilised for in-depth information around things to consider when choosing a dietary assessment method.
  2. Case scenarios - A number of case studies have been developed to reflect situations in which nutritional data may be collected as part of child obesity research. In each study, the intent is to illustrate a process for selecting a diet assessment method.
  3. Tools and validation studies - A database has been compiled of dietary assessment tools that have undergone some form of validation of their performance.

Medical Research Council (MRC-UK)

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We would like to acknowledge the extensive work undertaken by the Population Health Sciences Research Network (PHSRN), the Medical Research Council (MRC) in the United Kingdom, using a similar approach, to facilitate researchers in selecting appropriate dietary intake and physical activity methodologies for populations.

The ACAORN project, established in 2004, aimed to

  1. Support researchers in making decisions about appropriate dietary methodology and
  2. Provide access to dietary intake assessment tools for children and adolescents

This project was undertaken in the context of child obesity, research and practice.

During the project ACAORN became aware of the PHSRN project being undertaken by the MRC. ACAORN consulted with researchers based at the MRC and would particularly like to acknowledge Dr Janet Warren.

In the spirit of collaboration and not wanting to re-invent the wheel, it was acknowledged that The Diet and Physical Activity Measurement Matrices and associated web pages in the MRC toolkit would be a valuable resource for Australian researchers.

The ACAORN Matrices provide practical information with a focus on special considerations of undertaking dietary assessment in the context of obesity research with children and adolescents.

To expand the level of information on the relevant ACAORN Food and Nutrition web pages, please visit We have provided links to similar pages on the MRC web site in the features column on the right side of each applicable ACAORN web page

The MRC web pages will open in a new browser window enabling you to view both the data on the MRC and ACAORN web sites simultaneously.

For information on the MRC Diet and physical activity measurement toolkit, click here