Use and applications of systematic reviews in public health nutrition

Annu Rev Nutr. 2014:34:401-19. doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-080508-141240. Epub 2014 Apr 24.


Decisions related to a spectrum of nutrition-related public health and clinical concerns must consider many factors and are best informed by evaluating the totality and quality of the evidence. Systematic review (SR) is a structured process to evaluate, compare, and synthesize relevant evidence for the SR-specific question(s). Applications of SR are exemplified here through the discussion of four case studies: research agendas, nutrient reference intakes, dietary guidance, and practice guidelines. Concerns that SR cannot be effectively applied to nutrition evidence because of the lack of an unexposed comparator and the complex homeostasis in nutrition are discussed. Central to understanding the applicability of SR is its flexibility in defining key inclusion criteria and rigorous elements as appropriate for the SR-specific question(s). Through the reduction of bias and random error by explicit, reproducible, comprehensive, and rigorous examination of all of the evidence, SR informs the scientific judgment needed for sound evidence-based public health nutrition.

Keywords: evidence-based review; nutrition guidelines; nutrition policy; public health nutrition; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Public Health* / trends
  • Review Literature as Topic