A dietary assessment is a comprehensive evaluation of a person's food intake. It is one of four parts of a nutrition assessment done in a clinical setting. These four parameters of assessment include: (1) an assessment of anthropometrics (weight, height, weight-to-height ratio, head circumference, body mass index, etc.); (2) dietary assessment, which includes a diet history or food frequency analysis; (3) a physical examination with a medical history; and (4) biochemical exams or blood/urine tests.
Reviewing a person's dietary data may suggest risk factors for chronic diseases and help to prevent them. Laboratory tests may uncover malnutrition and detect problems before any side effects appear, such as the tiredness and apathy associated with iron-deficiency anemia. The strengths of a simple blood test and food intake record are that these are easy to do and are affordable and appropriate for most people.
Problems with using diet histories can occur because a person's memory about what he or she ate earlier may not be accurate. It can also be time-consuming to collect food intake records. There are also problems with interpreting food intakes, laboratory values, and appropriate weights and heights.
A final area of concern related to dietary assessment is what to do with the information once it has been gathered. Providing nutrition education and counseling to people of different ages and from different backgrounds requires a great deal of skill and a good understanding of diet quality, normal eating, and normal physical and psychosocial development. It is important to treat people as individuals with unique needs and concerns. Dietitians are trained to do this, but many health care workers are not trained to measure diet quality, define dietary moderation, or provide counseling.
American Heart Association. "Healthy Lifestyle: Diet and Nutrition." Available from <http://www.americanheart.org>
U.S. Department of Agriculture (2000). "Dietary Guidelines for Americans," 5th edition. Available from <http://www.usda.gov/cnpp>
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Information Center. "Dietary Assessment." Available from <http://www.nal.usda/fnic>