An Ontology to Standardize Research Output of Nutritional Epidemiology: From Paper-Based Standards to Linked Content

Nutrients. 2019 Jun 8;11(6):1300. doi: 10.3390/nu11061300.


Background: The use of linked data in the Semantic Web is a promising approach to add value to nutrition research. An ontology, which defines the logical relationships between well-defined taxonomic terms, enables linking and harmonizing research output. To enable the description of domain-specific output in nutritional epidemiology, we propose the Ontology for Nutritional Epidemiology (ONE) according to authoritative guidance for nutritional epidemiology.

Methods: Firstly, a scoping review was conducted to identify existing ontology terms for reuse in ONE. Secondly, existing data standards and reporting guidelines for nutritional epidemiology were converted into an ontology. The terms used in the standards were summarized and listed separately in a taxonomic hierarchy. Thirdly, the ontologies of the nutritional epidemiologic standards, reporting guidelines, and the core concepts were gathered in ONE. Three case studies were included to illustrate potential applications: (i) annotation of existing manuscripts and data, (ii) ontology-based inference, and (iii) estimation of reporting completeness in a sample of nine manuscripts.

Results: Ontologies for "food and nutrition" (n = 37), "disease and specific population" (n = 100), "data description" (n = 21), "research description" (n = 35), and "supplementary (meta) data description" (n = 44) were reviewed and listed. ONE consists of 339 classes: 79 new classes to describe data and 24 new classes to describe the content of manuscripts.

Conclusion: ONE is a resource to automate data integration, searching, and browsing, and can be used to assess reporting completeness in nutritional epidemiology.

Keywords: Semantic Web; data quality descriptors; minimal data information; nutritional epidemiology; ontology; study reporting guidelines.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Ontologies / organization & administration*
  • Biomedical Research / methods
  • Biomedical Research / standards*
  • Data Accuracy
  • Data Analysis
  • Diet*
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / methods*
  • Nutritional Sciences / methods
  • Nutritional Sciences / standards*
  • Terminology as Topic*