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Invited Commentary: The Contribution to the Field of Nutritional Epidemiology of the Landmark 1985 Publication by Willett et al

The semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) has been the primary source of dietary exposure data in epidemiology for decades. Although frequency instruments had been evaluated before the 1985 publication “Reproducibility and Validity of a Semiquantitative Food Frequency Questionnaire” by Willett et al. (Am J Epidemiol. 1985;122(1):51-65), that paper was the prototype for the development and validation of what was then a highly innovative method for collecting dietary data. This approach was adopted in nearly all subsequent cohort studies of diet and disease. The paper also catalyzed an extended scientific discourse regarding methods for validation, energy adjustment, and measurement error. It is now well established that data from FFQs and other self-reported dietary assessment instruments have both value and error and that this error should be considered in the analysis and interpretation of findings, including sensitivity analyses in which adjustment for measurement error is explored. Advances in technology make it feasible to consider collecting multiple granular short-term instruments such as recalls or records over time in addition to FFQs among all participants in large cohort studies; both provide valuable information. Without a doubt, the 1985 publication by Willett et al. provided the foundation that propelled the field of nutritional epidemiology forward, and it continues to be relevant today.

Authors: Subar AF; Kushi LH; Lerman JL; Freedman LS

Am J Epidemiol. 2017 Jun 01;185(11):1124-1129.

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