To understand dietary patterns, the quality of data collected is vitally important.  Sometimes that biscuit in a meeting or square of chocolate in front of the TV is eaten unconsciously therefore wouldn’t be recorded using traditional dietary data collection methods.  This unconscious eating is a relatively new phenomena thought to be created by the food environment and has become known as ‘mindless eating’.  A term coined by Professor of Consumer Behaviour at Cornell University, Brian Wansink.   It would be time consuming and ethically questionable to follow people to monitor their intake, so how can we ensure the best quality data. 

Technology can be used to bridge this gap.  New automated photographic methods such as wearable cameras- bypass the need for subjective recall of food eaten and can capture grazing behaviours says Dr Margo Barker, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield.

Whilst healthy snacking can be beneficial, the choice of snack is important and could have an effect on overall health.  Studies have reported that replacing just one unhealthy snack per day, could prevent 6000 cardiovascular deaths every year.  Whilst other studies show no association between snack frequency and BMI, with a reported 9 out of 10 people in the UK snacking regularly, it is important to understand what snacks are being consumed. 

Using mobile phones to record intake and take photographs of food prior to consumption (allowing for more accurate portion size reporting) has also been shown to be an effective method which also reduces participant burden.  Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Surrey, Dr Katheryn Hart says that ‘any method which removes or reduces the reliance on memory and shifts the burden of portion size estimation from the subject to the researcher, such as taking photos at the point of consumption, should substantially improve the accuracy of dietary assessment’

Dr Hart also highlights that ‘whatever dietary assessment method you choose, training is essential to ensure you can provide appropriate prompts to the participant and can effectively assess the accuracy and validity of the data you receive and understand its limitations’

Both Dr Barker and Dr Hart will be speaking at our Dietary Assessment workshop on 30 September.  They will be discussing how to choose the best dietary assessment for your sample and how to minimise collection errors by providing training on new approaches to data collection.  Click here for the dates of upcoming workshops.

Photo of Dr Kathryn Hart, University of Surrey, presenting at the Dietary Assessment workshop in 2015