The effect of social desirability trait on self-reported dietary measures among multi-ethnic female health center employees

Ann Epidemiol. 2001 Aug;11(6):417-27. doi: 10.1016/s1047-2797(01)00212-5.


Purpose: To evaluate the effect of social desirability trait, the tendency to respond in a manner consistent with societal expectations, on self-reported fruit, vegetable, and macronutrient intake.

Methods: A 61-item food frequency questionnaire (FFQ), 7-item fruit and vegetable screener, and a single question on combined fruit and vegetable intake were completed by 132 female employees at five health centers in eastern Massachusetts. Intake of fruit and vegetables derived from all three methods and macronutrients from the FFQ were fit as dependent variables in multiple linear regression models (overall and by race/ethnicity and education); independent variables included 3-day mean intakes derived from 24-hour recalls (24HR) and score on the 33-point Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability scale (the regression coefficient for which reflects its effect on estimates of dietary intake based on the comparison method relative to 24HR).

Results: Results are based on the 93 women with complete data and FFQ-derived caloric intake between 450 and 4500 kcal/day. In women with college education, FFQ-derived estimates of total caloric were associated with under-reporting by social desirability trait (e.g., the regression coefficient for total caloric intake was -23.6 kcal/day/point in that group versus 36.1 kcal/day/point in women with education less than college) (difference = 59.7 kcal/day/point, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 13.2, 106.2). Except for the single question on which women with college education tended to under-report (difference =.103 servings/day/point, 95% CI = 0.003, 0.203), there was no association of social desirability trait with self-reported fruit and vegetable intake.

Conclusions: The effect of social desirability trait on FFQ reports of macronutrient intake appeared to differ by education, but not by ethnicity or race. The results of this study may have important implications for epidemiologic studies of diet and health in women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Composition
  • Diet / psychology*
  • Diet Surveys
  • Energy Intake
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Female
  • Fruit
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Mental Recall
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Desirability*
  • Vegetables