Healthy eating

Scale: National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) – nutrition/dietary intake items

What it measures:

  • The frequency of the youth’s daily consumption of food from various food groups (e.g. fruits, vegetables, dairy).

Intended age range: 12- to 18-year olds; however, somewhat younger youth also may be able to provide reliable responses.

Brief description: This measure consists of 5 items that ask about the frequency with which the youth ate different types of food the previous day. Examples of the types of food asked about are milk, yogurt, and cheese; vegetables; and cookies, doughnuts, pie, and cake. Item response choices are Didn't eat, Ate once, and Ate once or more.

Rationale: The items were selected based on their ability to provide a short, easy-to-administer tool for assessing dietary intake among youth, the use of a short, one-day recall period (expected to be less subject to recall inaccuracies than longer periods especially for youth), and promising evidence of reliability. Additionally, normative data for responses to this set of questions for a large, nationally-representative sample of 7th to 12th graders are available through the Add Health study.

Cautions: The use of self-reported data to assess dietary intake is less reliable and less accurate than more objective measures (e.g., the doubly labeled water method or biomarkers such as plasma carotenoids), especially among children younger than 10 years old and those who are overweight or obese. These items also do not provide information on portion sizes of foods eaten and thus are not appropriate for measuring total diet (i.e., daily energy intake). Additionally, these items would not be adequate for mentoring programs that have a focus on reducing nutritional risk behaviors, such as skipping breakfast, eating dinner while watching TV, etc.

Special administration information: None.

How to score: Responses to each item can be used to assess the frequency of consumption of food from individual food groups. In addition, although precedent for doing so has not been identified, a total score could be computed. This score could be computed by averaging responses across all items, with items scored on the same 3-point response set noted above, from 0 (Didn't eat) to 2 (Ate once or more) for the 4 items that refer to nutritious types of foods and in the reverse direction for the remaining item that asks about consumption of sweets.

How to interpret findings: Responses to these items could be compared to those of youth in the Add Health study to help determine how program participants compare to those of youth more generally. These types of comparisons will be more informative when conducted with reference to the youth’s specific demographic subgroup (e.g., 9th grade girls).

Access and permissions: The measure is available for non-commercial use free of charge and is made available here.

Alternatives: A more detailed and longer assessment (e.g., the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Food Frequency Questionnaire) can also be used in assessing dietary intake among young people. This measure may also be used with children younger than 10 years of age when completed by a parent or other adult informant.

Citation: Harris, K. M., Halpern, C. T., Whitsel, E., Hussey, J., Tabor, J., Entzel, P., & Udry, J. R. (2009). The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health: Research design. Retrieved from

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