Dietary Assessment Method: Analyzing How Sex and Gender Interact

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Diet-related chronic diseases (DRCDs), including cancers and cardiovascular diseases, are rapidly emerging on a worldwide scale. Dietary assessments, in the form of Food Frequency Questionnaires, are the best way to identify the factors that contribute to these diseases.

FFQs are administered as surveys reporting the food items consumed by a demographic of the population as well as the frequency and portion size of consumption of each of these meals. This helps to obtain aggregate data on eating habits in different parts of the world.

Such a survey conducted in Uganda yields the following results for the most frequently consumed food items: posho, plantains, beans alone/in soup, tomatoes, cooked onions, tea without milk, and soda (1-6+ times/day) as well as pillau, Irish potato, sweet potato, cassava, g.nut stew, mixed beans, beef, dried fish, eggs, margarine, and animal fat (1-5 times/week). This data also varies greatly depending on socioeconomic status, age, and personal preferences.

Most FFQ studies are non-gender specific, in that the results obtained are not representative of male and female populations but rather combine these into one aggregate measure. This has proven to be quite misleading when conducting studies on the development of science-based disease prevention and treatment for DRCDs, because nutritional intake varies greatly between males and females. For instance, correcting portion sizes to be sex-specific (with men consuming larger portions than women in general) leads to a significant increase in the value calculated for consumption of cancer-related dietary factors in women

In addition, men are generally less inclined to complete such surveys as they tend to be less familiar with specific foods and cooking, a task that is usually relegated to women as per the Ugandan societal structure. They are therefore underrepresented in most FFQs, which can also cause the values for both the male and female cohorts to be skewed.

Gender-specific FFQs thus better demonstrate the relationship between diet and disease. As such, the effect of red meat as a risk factor of colon cancer was only identified in gender-specific studies, while non gender-specific studies completely hid this important correlation. More generally, intake levels of various nutrients proved to be far more accurate for both men and women in gender-specific studies of this kind. This comes to have important implications for research in the health sector and the development of targeted prevention and treatment plans for DRCDs

WOUGNET is a non-governmental organization that promotes the empowerment of women through the use of information and communication technologies as a tool for sustainable development. The organization works to disseminate information regarding the condition of women in Uganda to both males and females, in order to increase gender sensitivity and promote women’s rights

The diffusion of gender-specific information regarding dietary intake and nutritional patterns falls well under the scope of this organization: it is only with accurate, detailed information that the population will become well informed about the many causes that WOUGNET is fighting for the sake of women, including women’s health. WOUGNET will thus continue to encourage the use of gender-specific FFQs to give women access to information allowing them to determine their own health status.

Gendered Innovations, Stanford University

AFENET Conference Presentation by Nathan Isabirye


Kariane St-Denis

Kariane St-Denis, is a Student at McGill University in Canada and working under the WOUGNET Information Sharing and Networking Program in Kampala, Uganda