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Assessing the dietary environment: examples from school-based nutrition interventions

  • Leslie A Lytle (a1) and Jayne A Fulkerson (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 22 December 2006

The objectives of this paper are to (1) introduce the concept of upstream and downstream public health approaches and discuss diet assessment issues in that context, and (2) provide examples of diet assessment methods and challenges in assessing environmental factors influencing eating patterns.


Dietary assessment of environmental factors is discussed as they relate to nutrition interventions for school-aged children, although the issues transcend population characteristics. Examples of assessment challenges in measuring ‘dietary environments’ are drawn from the Child and Adolescent Trial for Cardiovascular Health (CATCH), Teens Eating for Energy and Nutrition at School (TEENS) and Trying Alternative Cafeteria Options in Schools (TACOS) studies.


The healthfulness of our ‘dietary environments’ (which may include food availability, social norms around food choice and the effect of pricing, policy and promotion on food choice) may be more important in determining what people consume than their individual decision-making about food choice. There is a dearth of published information to inform us on how to assess these ‘dietary environments’.

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