A new online nutrition tool that can help health leaders to get their teeth into the relationship between diet and chronic disease is being developed by researchers from the Nutrition and Health Department at the College of Food and Agriculture, United Arab Emirates University (UAEU). PhD candidate, Najoua El Mesmoudi has developed an on-line dietary assessment tool with the aim of encouraging people to outline what, and how, they eat.
According to Dr. Ayesha Al Dhaheri, the Chairperson of the Nutrition and Health and a Co-supervisor of the project, changing nutritional habits in the UAE lead to diet-related chronic diseases - such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and obesity - being identified as a key health issue for the nation. This newly created food frequency questionnaire, which is a dietary assessment tool for the UAE is designed to provide new insights into dietary practices of the Emirati population as well as more accurate data on their nutrient intakes.
The food frequency questionnaire, our PhD candidate, Najoua El Mesmoudi, developed represents the first attempt to “create a practical dietary intake instrument targeting the Emirati population”, with the information it provides feeding into studies on the impact of diet on chronic disease prevalence in the UAE according to Dr. Habiba Ali, an Associate Professor in the Nutrition and Health and the main supervisor of the project. In the development of the food frequency questionnaire, we used dietary data from our 2009-2010 national study of the Emirati population which was conducted in collaboration with the University of North Carolina – at Chapel Hill, USA, Dr. Habiba added.
According to El Mesmoudi, the quantitative tool, tailored for use in the UAE and made available in both Arabic and English to reach a large scale of people, will ask participants about their average eating patterns over the past year, and pose two questions about each of the 130 food items - identified as most commonly consumed by Emiratis. It lists: how often the user ate these foods, and how much they ate each time.
Each of the foods included in the questionnaire is specific to Emirati culture and food habits, presented in the online tool in the form of images of three different portion sizes in order to enable the participants to identify their usual portion size and to choose the one that is most appropriate to their own diet.
“There is a lack of data on the dietary habits of UAE nationals,” she said. To understand the relationship between diet and chronic disease among the UAE population, it is first essential to assess the population’s dietary intake through the different types of assessment instruments including 24-hour dietary recalls which asks about foods eaten on the previous 24 hours and food frequency questionnaires.
“A food frequency questionnaire is a simple and inexpensive dietary assessment tool that can estimate the dietary intake of large populations over long periods of time, taking into account food patterns and the seasonality of foods specific to the population. We have developed such a questionnaire that is tailored to the consumption patterns and culture of UAE nationals, as there has been no validated food frequency questionnaire developed for them in the past.”
El Mesmoudi hopes that the tool can also support programs to combat non-communicable diseases at national level, adding: “It will be an asset for other researchers in the region to use or adapt for their studies.”
El Mesmoudi is grateful to all her research team advisers who have helped her in this project; Dr. Habiba Ali and Dr. Ayesha Al Dhaheri from the College of Food and Agriculture and Dr. Tom Loney from Institute of Public Health at the College of Medicine and Health Sciences, UAEU.
Professor Bhanu Chowdhary, Dean of the College of Food and Agriculture stated that it is the strategy of the College of Food and Agriculture at UAEU to conduct research projects that address key priorities areas of the UAE, such as health.