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.