Defining diet quality: a synthesis of dietary quality metrics and their validity for the double burden of malnutrition


Achieving most of the UN Sustainable Development Goals requires a strong focus on addressing the double burden of malnutrition, which includes both diet-related maternal and child health (MCH) and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Although, the most optimal dietary metric for assessing malnutrition remains unclear. Our aim was to review available global dietary quality metrics (hereafter referred to as dietary metrics) and evidence for their validity to assess MCH and NCD outcomes, both separately and together. A systematic search of PubMed was done to identify meta-analyses or narrative reviews evaluating validity of diet metrics in relation to nutrient adequacy or health outcomes. We identified seven dietary metrics aiming to address MCH and 12 for NCDs, no dietary metrics addressed both together. Four NCD dietary metrics (Mediterranean Diet Score, Alternative Healthy Eating Index, Healthy Eating Index, and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) had convincing evidence of protective associations with specific NCD outcomes, mainly mortality, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and total cancer. The remaining NCD dietary metrics and all MCH dietary metrics were not convincingly validated against MCH or NCD health outcomes. None of the dietary metrics had been validated against both MCH and NCD outcomes. These findings highlight major gaps in assessing and addressing diet to achieve global targets and effective policy action.

The Lancet Planetary Health
Display Date
04 August 2020