Methods for calculating dietary energy density in a nationally representative sample

Procedia Food Sci. 2013;2:68-74. doi: 10.1016/j.profoo.2013.04.011.


There has been a growing interest in examining dietary energy density (ED, kcal/g) as it relates to various health outcomes. Consuming a diet low in ED has been recommended in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, as well as by other agencies, as a dietary approach for disease prevention. Translating this recommendation into practice; however, is difficult. Currently there is no standardized method for calculating dietary ED; as dietary ED can be calculated with foods alone, or with a combination of foods and beverages. Certain items may be defined as either a food or a beverage (e.g., meal replacement shakes) and require special attention. National survey data are an excellent resource for evaluating factors that are important to dietary ED calculation. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) nutrient and food database does not include an ED variable, thus researchers must independently calculate ED. The objective of this study was to provide information that will inform the selection of a standardized ED calculation method by comparing and contrasting methods for ED calculation. The present study evaluates all consumed items and defines foods and beverages based on both USDA food codes and how the item was consumed. Results are presented as mean EDs for the different calculation methods stratified by population demographics (e.g. age, sex). Using United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) food codes in the 2005-2008 NHANES, a standardized method for calculating dietary ED can be derived. This method can then be adapted by other researchers for consistency across studies.

Keywords: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, NHANES; USDA; What We Eat in America, WWEIA; energy density.