Presentation and interpretation of food intake data: factors affecting comparability across studies
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Non-uniform, unclear, or incomplete presentation of food intake data limits interpretation, usefulness, and comparisons across studies. In this contribution, we discuss factors affecting uniform reporting of food intake across studies. The amount of food eaten can be reported as mean portion size, number of servings or total amount of food consumed per day; the absolute intake
value for the specific study depends on the denominator used because food intake data can be presented as per capita intake or for consumers only. To identify the foods mostly consumed, foods are reported and ranked according to total number of times consumed, number of consumers, total intake, or nutrient contribution by individual foods or food groups. Presentation of food intake data primarily depends on a study's aim; reported data thus often are not comparable across studies. Food intake data further depend on the dietary assessment methodology used and foods in the database consulted; and are influenced by the inherent limitations of all dietary assessments. Intake data can be presented as either single foods or as clearly defined food groups. Mixed dishes, reported as such or in terms of ingredients and items added during food preparation remain challenging. Comparable presentation of food consumption data is not always possible; presenting sufficient information will assist valid interpretation and optimal use of the presented data. A checklist was developed to strengthen the reporting of food intake data in science communication.