Background: Validation studies of dietary instruments developed for epidemiological studies have typically used some form of diet record as the standard for comparison. Recent work suggests that comparison with diet record may overestimate the ability of the epidemiological instrument to measure habitual dietary intake, due to lack of independence of the measurement errors. The degree of regression dilution in estimating diet-disease association may therefore have been correspondingly underestimated. Use of biochemical measures of intake may mitigate the problem. In this paper, we report on the use of urinary measures of intakes of nitrogen, potassium and sodium to compare the performance of a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) and a 7-day diet diary (7DD) to estimate average intake of these nutrients over one year.
Methods: In all, 179 individuals were asked to complete an FFQ and a 7DD on two occasions separated by approximately 12 months. The individuals were also asked to provide 24-hour urine samples on six occasions over a 6-9-month period, covering the time at which the record FFQ and 7DD were completed. The urine was assayed for nitrogen, potassium and sodium. The protocol was completed by 123 individuals. The data from these individuals were analysed to estimate the covariance structure of the measurement errors of the FFQ, the 7DD and a single 24-hour urine measurement, and to estimate the degree of regression dilution associated with the FFQ and 7DD.
Results: The results demonstrated that: (1) the error variances for each of the three nutrients was more than twice as great with the FFQ than the 7DD; (2) there was substantial correlation (0.46-0.58) between the error of both the FFQ and the 7DD completed on different occasions; (3) there was moderate correlation (0.24- 0.29) between the error in the FFQ and the error in the 7DD for each nutrient; (4) the correlation between errors in different nutrients was higher for the FFQ (0.77-0.80) than for the 7DD (0.52-0.70).
Conclusions: The regression dilution with the FFQ is considerably greater than with the 7DD and also, for the nutrients considered, greater than would be inferred if validation studies were based solely on record or diary type instruments.