Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Symposium on ‘Growing up with good nutrition: a focus on the first two decades’

Measurement of dietary intake in children

M. B. E. Livingstonea1 c1 and P. J. Robsona1

a1 Northern Ireland Centre for Diet and Health, University of Ulster, Coleraine, Co. Londonderry BT52 1SA, UK


When children and adolescents are the target population in dietary surveys many different respondent and observer considerations surface. The cognitive abilities required to self-report food intake include an adequately developed concept of time, a good memory and attention span, and a knowledge of the names of foods. From the age of 8 years there is a rapid increase in the ability of children to self-report food intake. However, while cognitive abilities should be fully developed by adolescence, issues of motivation and body image may hinder willingness to report. Ten validation studies of energy intake data have demonstrated that mis-reporting, usually in the direction of under-reporting, is likely. Patterns of under-reporting vary with age, and are influenced by weight status and the dietary survey method used. Furthermore, evidence for the existence of subject-specific responding in dietary assessment challenges the assumption that repeated measurements of dietary intake will eventually obtain valid data. Unfortunately, the ability to detect mis-reporters, by comparison with presumed energy requirements, is limited unless detailed activity information is available to allow the energy intake of each subject to be evaluated individually. In addition, high variability in nutrient intakes implies that, if intakes are valid, prolonged dietary recording will be required to rank children correctly for distribution analysis. Future research should focus on refining dietary survey methods to make them more sensitive to different ages and cognitive abilities. The development of improved techniques for identification of mis-reporters and investigation of the issue of differential reporting of foods should also be given priority.


c1 Corresponding author: Dr M. B. E. Livingstone, fax +44 (0)1265 324965, email