To what extent do food purchases reflect shoppers' diet quality and nutrient intake?

Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017 Apr 11;14(1):46. doi: 10.1186/s12966-017-0502-2.


Background: Food purchasing is considered a key mediator between the food environment and eating behavior, and food purchasing patterns are increasingly measured in epidemiologic and intervention studies. However, the extent to which food purchases actually reflect individuals' dietary intake has not been rigorously tested. This study examined cross-sectional agreement between estimates of diet quality and nutrient densities derived from objectively documented household food purchases and those derived from interviewer-administered 24-h diet recalls. A secondary aim was to identify moderator variables associated with attenuated agreement between purchases and dietary intake.

Methods: Primary household food shoppers (N = 196) collected and annotated receipts for all household food and beverage purchases (16,356 total) over 14 days. Research staff visited participants' homes four times to photograph the packaging and nutrition labels of each purchased item. Three or four multiple-pass 24-h diet recalls were performed within the same 14-d period. Nutrient densities and Healthy Eating Index-2010 (HEI-2010) scores were calculated from both food purchase and diet recall data.

Results: HEI-2010 scores derived from food purchases (median = 60.9, interquartile range 49.1-71.7) showed moderate agreement (ρc = .57, p < .0001) and minimal bias (-2.0) with HEI-2010 scores from 24-h recalls (median = 60.1, interquartile range 50.8-73.9). The degree of observed bias was unrelated to the number of food/beverage purchases reported or participant characteristics such as social desirability, household income, household size, and body mass. Concordance for individual nutrient densities from food purchases and 24-h diet recalls varied widely from ρc = .10 to .61, with the strongest associations observed for fiber (ρc = .61), whole fruit (ρc = .48), and vegetables (ρc = .39).

Conclusions: Objectively documented household food purchases yield an unbiased and reasonably accurate estimate of overall diet quality as measured through 24-h diet recalls, but are generally less useful for characterizing dietary intake of specific nutrients. Thus, some degree of caution is warranted when interpreting food purchase data as a reflection of diet in epidemiological and clinical research. Future work should examine agreement between food purchases and nutritional biomarkers.

Trial registration:, NCT02073643 . Retrospectively registered.

Keywords: Diet quality; Dietary assessment; Energy density; Food purchasing; Healthy eating index.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Beverages
  • Chicago
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet / methods*
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Diet Records
  • Energy Intake
  • Family Characteristics
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Food / economics*
  • Food / statistics & numerical data*
  • Fruit
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nutritive Value*
  • Vegetables

Associated data