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Documenting and monitoring dietary patterns are priorities in nutritional epidemiology, in the planning of national food and nutrition policies and in the evaluation of nutrition education strategies. Early efforts in documenting dietary patterns were focused on identifying the specific nutrients that may be responsible for effects on people's health, but recently research has expanded towards studying patterns of food intake. Food data are often derived from:

  • Food Balance Sheets, providing information on food supply at the population level.
  • Household Budget Surveys, which collect data on food availability in the household, based on nationally representative samples of households.
  • specifically designed Individual Dietary Surveys, providing information on the food intake of free-living individuals.

In section 2.1 of the present chapter, food data sources are presented and commented upon, with emphasis on the dietary information collected. Section 2.2 provides an overview of individual dietary surveys undertaken in Europe, during the last 20 years, and discusses the factors that need to be taken into consideration before data from varied sources are combined and compared. European studies (DAFNE, EPIC, MONICA and SENECA) that allow for international comparisons are also presented and the section concludes with examples of European studies designed to address specific, nutrition-related research questions. Based on currently available data, the last section of the chapter describes dietary patterns in Europe and attempts to identify socio-demographic factors responsible for the disparities observed.

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