The Problem With Food Diaries
As part of my research for an upcoming Food section column, I've been spending some time with David Cutler, Ed Glaeser and Jesse Shapiro's excellent paper exploring the rise in obesity. More on the main conclusions to come, but this bit on the difficulty of using food diaries — literally, diaries where people write down what they eat so researchers can get an idea of consumption patterns — is pretty entertaining.
Detailed food diaries are available for 1977-78 and 1994-96 from the Continuing Surveys of Food Intake by Individuals, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In principle, all food consumption is recorded. In practice, however, consumption is surely understated. People do not record everything they eat, and the act of keeping a diary lowers consumption for some people. Evidence of this underreporting is seen in average caloric intake recorded in these surveys. The average male in 1994-96 reports consuming 2,347 calories — corresponding to roughly 106 lbs in steady state. The average female reports caloric intake of 1,658 calories, consistent with a steady-state weight of 64 lbs.
Now, if only we could self-report our weights, too...
August 25, 2009; 2:23 PM ET
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