It can be an uncomfortable thing to tell someone your dietary habits, especially when they aren’t what most would consider healthy. Inaccurate diet reporting isn’t surprising, but it may do more harm than initially realized, particularly for Hispanics.
According to new research from the University of Hawaii at Manoas College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, low-income Mexican American women in California often were inaccurate–whether deliberately or inadvertently–when self-reporting their dietary habits to researchers. While this may not seem like a reason for major concern, experts believe such widespread inaccuracy is impacting nutritional recommendations and may contribute to obesity.
Data that does not reflect actual intake may be used by researchers, policy makers and others to take actions to change eating habits, leading to recommendations that are not based on accurate information, said study co-author Jinan Banna in a university statement. “It is important to find ways to ensure that individuals correctly report what they ate so we have a sound basis for drawing conclusions.”
Because dietary data for Hispanics is often looked at as a whole, if the majority of people are misrepresenting their diets, experts could falsely believe Hispanics as a group are deficient in certain vitamins or need more of certain nutrients than they really do. Not only does this impact nutritional recommendations, it can impact disease treatment recommendations as well. Let’s say, for example, inaccurate dietary reporting makes it appear like Hispanics don’t get enough vitamin A, therefore doctors and medical staff recommend to patients to increase vitamin A intake. If, in reality, Hispanics get enough vitamin A, taking more could cause an overdose and serious health issues.
Inaccurate dietary reporting can also prevent researchers and policy makers from identifying problematic areas for low-income populations. As a general rule, low-income individuals are less likely to have access to healthy food options, but if they inaccurately report, the problem may appear more or less than it really is. This prevents areas that need food assistance from obtaining it, while providing areas that may not need as much with more than necessary.
Until now, researchers weren’t sure just how significantly inaccurate dietary reporting might affect public health. Now that the numbers show widespread inaccuracies, however, it is clear action needs to be taken when it comes to self-reporting data.
It will be important to see how we might prevent this problem of misreporting, said Banna. That may mean looking at new ways of collecting information about diet in Hispanics, like asking people to take photographs of the food they eat instead of performing interviews.
Banna and fellow researchers next plan on investigating inaccurate dietary reporting based on Hispanic subgroup.