a1 Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health, University of Ulster, Coleraine, Co. Londonderry, BT52 1SA, UK
Studies of food habits and dietary intakes face a number of unique respondent and observer considerations at different stages from early childhood to late adolescence. Despite this, intakes have often been reported as if valid, and the interpretation of links between intake and health has been based, often erroneously, on the assumption of validity. However, validation studies of energy intake data have led to the widespread recognition that much of the dietary data on children and adolescents is prone to reporting error, mostly through under-reporting. Reporting error is influenced by body weight status and does not occur systematically across different age groups or different dietary survey techniques. It appears that the available methods for assessing the dietary intakes of children are, at best, able to provide unbiased estimates of energy intake only at the group level, while the food intake data of most adolescents are particularly prone to reporting error at both the group and the individual level. Moreover, evidence for the existence of subject-specific responding in dietary assessments challenges the assumption that repeated measurements of dietary intake will eventually obtain valid data. Only limited progress has been made in understanding the variables associated with misreporting in these age groups, the associated biases in estimating nutrient intakes and the most appropriate way to interpret unrepresentative dietary data. Until these issues are better understood, researchers should exercise considerable caution when evaluating all such data.