Food variety--a good indicator of nutritional adequacy of the diet? A case study from an urban area in Mali, West Africa

Eur J Clin Nutr. 1998 Dec;52(12):891-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1600662.


Objective: This study assesses whether a simple count of food items and food groups can predict the nutritional adequacy of the diet in an economically poor country.

Design: A three-day weighed record of children.

Setting: Koutiala town, in Southeastern Mali.

Subjects: Seventy-seven children, 13-58 months of age. One child was excluded owing to an extraordinarily low food variety.

Intervention: The study was conducted in April August 1995. Data from this study were used to create two different indices: Food Variety Score (FVS), a simple count of food items, and Dietary Diversity Score (DDS), a count of food groups. Mean Adequacy Ratio (MAR) was calculated as an indicator for nutrient adequacy, and used to validate FVS and DDS.

Results: Mean (s.d.) FVS was 20.5 (3.8) and mean (s.d.) DDS was 5.8 (1.1). A positive correlation was found both between FVS and MAR (Pearson 0.33, P < 0.001) and DDS and MAR (Pearson 0.39, P < 0.001). With cut-off points for FVS at 23 and for DDS at 6, the indices have high ability to identify those with a nutritionally inadequate diet. MAR increased with increasing FVS and DDS. FVS needs to be at least 15 or DDS at least 5 to give a satisfactory MAR.

Conclusion: Although a simple count of food items or food groups cannot give a full picture of the adequacy of the nutrient intake, the results from this study show that the food scores can give a fairly good assessment of the nutritional adequacy of the diet, particularly if combined. Such indicators are important for identification of vulnerable groups in areas where people normally eat from a shared bowl, which makes detailed dietary intake studies difficult, time consuming and expensive.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet*
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mali
  • Nutrition Assessment*
  • Nutritional Status