Improving food frequency questionnaires: a qualitative approach using cognitive interviewing

J Am Diet Assoc. 1995 Jul;95(7):781-8; quiz 789-90. doi: 10.1016/s0002-8223(95)00217-0.


In an attempt to improve data quality and ease of administration of standard self-administered food frequency questionnaires, various alternative approaches were tried for inquiring about frequency of consumption, portion size, seasonal intake, and food preparation. Evaluation consisted of a cognitive interviewing method in which respondents verbalize their thought process while completing several variations of a questionnaire. Interviewers observed and asked follow-up probe questions to evaluate problems or inconsistencies verbalized by respondents. Consensus and judgment by interviewers and observers suggested several problematic features of food frequency questionnaires: formatting of questions about frequency and portion size; computing average frequencies for aggregated food items or for foods eaten seasonally; comprehension of many items; and ordering of foods. These findings led to cognitive refinement and innovations, which included detailed questions regarding preparation or use of low-fat varieties or other alternatives to help better describe specifics of intake for some foods; questions on seasonal intake for several foods; inclusion of portion size ranges; and additional response categories for frequency of intake. Cognitive interviewing is an important step in pinpointing cognitive problems in dietary questionnaires.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition*
  • Diet Records*
  • Eating*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / standards*