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Development of a short food frequency questionnaire to assess diet quality in UK adolescents using the National Diet and Nutrition Survey

Shaw, S., Crozier, S., Strömmer, S. , Inskip, H., Barker, M., Vogel, C. A. ORCID: 0000-0002-3897-3786 & EACH-B Study Team (2021). Development of a short food frequency questionnaire to assess diet quality in UK adolescents using the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Nutrition Journal, 20(1), article number 5. doi: 10.1186/s12937-020-00658-1


BACKGROUND: UK adolescents consume fewer fruits and vegetables and more free sugars than any other age group. Established techniques to understand diet quality can be difficult to use with adolescents because of high participant burden. This study aimed to identify key foods that indicate variation in diet quality in UK adolescents for inclusion in a short food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) and to investigate the associations between adolescent diet quality, nutritional biomarkers and socio-demographic factors.

METHODS: Dietary, demographic and biomarker data from waves 1-8 of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey rolling programme were used (n=2587; aged 11-18 years; 50% boys; n=≤997 biomarker data). Principal component analysis (PCA) was applied to 139 food groups to identify the key patterns within the data. Two diet quality scores, a 139-group and 20-group, were calculated using the PCA coefficients for each food group and multiplying by their standardised reported frequency of consumption and then summing across foods. The foods with the 10 strongest positive and 10 strongest negative coefficients from the PCA results were used for the 20-group score. Scores were standardised to have a zero mean and standard deviation of one.

RESULTS: The first PCA component explained 3.0% of variance in the dietary data and described a dietary pattern broadly aligned with UK dietary recommendations. A correlation of 0.87 was observed between the 139-group and 20-group scores. Bland-Altman mean difference was 0.00 and 95% limits of agreement were - 0.98 to 0.98 SDs. Correlations, in the expected direction, were seen between each nutritional biomarker and both scores; results attenuated slightly for the 20-group score compared to the 139-group score. Better diet quality was observed among girls, non-white populations and in those from higher socio-economic backgrounds for both scores.

CONCLUSIONS: The diet quality score based on 20 food groups showed reasonable agreement with the 139-group score. Both scores were correlated with nutritional biomarkers. A short 20-item FFQ can provide a meaningful and easy-to-implement tool to assess diet quality in large scale observational and intervention studies with adolescents.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Publisher Keywords: Adolescents, Dietary assessment, Diet quality, National Diet and nutrition survey, Short food frequency questionnaire
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
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