#523: How Trustworthy is the Food Frequency Questionnaire in Evaluating Dietary Intake? – Deirdre Tobias, ScD

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The Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) stands as a cornerstone in nutritional research, offering valuable insights into dietary patterns and habits over a specified period. Despite its widespread use and established utility, the FFQ has not been immune to criticism, much of which arises from a misunderstanding of its purpose and inherent limitations.

At its core, the FFQ is designed to assess the frequency and quantity of food consumption, aiming to capture long-term dietary behaviors rather than precise intake levels. Researchers employ it to investigate relationships between diet and various health outcomes, such as chronic diseases or nutritional deficiencies.

However, critics argue that its reliance on self-reported data introduces biases and inaccuracies, leading to potential misestimation of nutrient intake. Additionally, some detractors question the FFQ’s ability to capture sporadic or infrequent dietary choices accurately.

Yet, it’s crucial to recognize that the FFQ serves a specific purpose within the realm of nutrition research. While there are no doubt limitations, its strength lies in its ability to capture habitual dietary behaviors over an extended period. Moreover, researchers employ various strategies, such as validation studies and data adjustment techniques, to enhance the FFQ’s reliability and validity.

In this episode, world-leading nutrition epidemiologist Dr. Deirdre Tobias discusses the development of the FFQ, the key concepts that are crucial to understand, common criticisms of the FFQ, and how we should evaluate the utility of this tool.

Guest Information

Deirdre Tobias, ScD

Dr. Deirdre Tobias is a nutritional epidemiologist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard.

Her research focuses on the role of diet and lifestyle for obesity and its major chronic diseases, including gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes, and has been published in leading peer-reviewed journals including the New England Journal of Medicine and Journal of the American Medical Association.

She received her doctorate and postdoctoral training at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Tobias was appointed the Academic Editor for the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2019.



  • 01:05 Background and Research Interests – Dr. Deirdre Tobias
  • 06:32 The Evolution and Importance of FFQs in Nutritional Epidemiology
  • 12:15 Understanding Variability and the Design of FFQs
  • 24:01 Validation and Precision of FFQs
  • 29:03 The Challenge of Validation and Reference Methods
  • 38:47 Exploring Criticisms and Misconceptions
  • 41:48 The Importance of Accurate Dietary Assessment in Research
  • 51:08 Understanding Measurement Error in Nutritional Epidemiology
  • 01:03:06 The Role of FFQs in Randomized Intervention Trials

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