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Diet and nutrition: key data sources 

Listed below are the key sources of data on diet and nutritional behaviour in Scotland, along with a brief description of their strengths and weaknesses as information sources. Most of these surveys were examined in the review of diet and nutrition surveys commissioned by the Working group on monitoring Scottish dietary targets. A review of food consumption and nutrient intakes from national surveys in Scotland, published in September 2006, also examined the usefulness of various surveys.

The report of the Working group on monitoring Scottish dietary targets concluded that the Living Costs and Food Survey should be used to monitor progress towards the Scottish Dietary Targets, but acknowledged that new surveys were required to determine NMES (non-milk extrinsic sugars) intakes in children and sodium intake in the Scottish population, which have since been carried out. The Living Costs and Food Survey data does require considerable secondary analysis to calculate statistically meaningful figures.


Living Costs and Food Survey (formerly the Expenditure and Food Survey)

Strengths: able to measure most of the Scottish dietary targets.

Weaknesses: relatively small sample size (but can be accumulated over a number of years); questions relate to households rather than individuals in households, and exclude children.

Scottish Health Survey (SHeS)

Strengths: large sample size improves validity and allows sub-analyses by population group/geographical area; wider scope allows analyses of combinations of risk factors, and relationships with health outcomes.

Weaknesses: eating habits module does not look at all food types, is unable to measure nutrients and has limited data on portion size.

Growing Up in Scotland (GUS)

Strengths: large longitudinal and cross-sectional survey which has a unique Scottish focus and is driven primarily by the needs of policy; it covers eating habits, main meals, types of food eaten and sources of advice on children's diets/healthy eating.

Weaknesses: limited questions on diet.

Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC)

Strengths: allows limited analysis of diet in relation to other health behaviours; international comparisons.

Weaknesses: limited questions on eating behaviour.

Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS)

Strengths: allows limited analysis of diet in relation to other lifestyle factors.

Weaknesses: only a few food questions on eating behaviour.

Health Education Population Survey (HEPS)

Strengths: annual data, therefore good for looking at trends.

Weaknesses: limited dietary assessment, survey has now ceased.

TNS Superpanel

Strengths: allows UK comparisons; large amount of historical data available.

Weaknesses: self-selecting sample; based on TV regions so Scottish data includes some areas in North England.

Food Standards Agency in Scotland surveys

Following the report of the Working group on monitoring Scottish dietary targets the Food Standards Agency in Scotland have commissioned and published a number of reports, and have several ongoing projects and surveys, aimed at monitoring progress towards the dietary targets and enhancing understanding of diet and nutrition behaviour in Scotland.

National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS)

Strengths: allows UK comparisons.

Weaknesses: very small sample size in Scotland (although the current rolling NDNS programme includes a boost to the Scottish sample) and low response rates. Until now survey findings have related to different age groups in different survey years, therefore unable to look at trends over time.

Low Income Diet and Nutrition Survey (LIDNS)

Strengths: good representation of the low income population in the UK, allows comparisons with other UK surveys, provides evidence on the eating habits, nutrient intakes and nutrition-related health of people on low income. Weaknesses: one-off survey.

Food Standards Agency Surveys of Consumer Attitudes

Strengths: annual survey, therefore useful for examining trends in consumer attitudes. Weaknesses: limited detail on actual dietary behaviour.

Scottish Children's Diet Survey 2010 (3.94MB)

The Food Standards Agency in Scotland commissioned ScotCen to conduct a national study of children's diets in Scotland. More information is available on the Scottish Children's Diet Survey 2010 page on the ScotCen website.

Further details on Food Standards Agency in Scotland research and current projects are available on the relevant page on their website.

Maternal and Infant Nutrition

In 2010, ScotPHO published a report What is known about maternal and infant nutrition in Scotland? which describes the main patterns and trends in maternal and infant nutrition from the data that are available.

Page last updated: 12 September 2017

© Scottish Public Health Observatory 2014