Population-based dietary assessment is important for informing national nutrition policy. The developing country setting presents challenges for robust implementation of dietary surveys, yet effective nutrition interventions are often urgently required.
To develop and evaluate a low-cost approach to epidemiologic dietary assessment in Mongolia, involving the use of large cohorts of local public health and medical students as research assistants for collecting diet records.
From 2011 to 2016, over 200 Mongolian medical and public health university students were trained to collect paired summer and winter 3-day weighed diet records from urban and rural study populations across the geographic expanse of Mongolia. Students were supervised during data collection, and their performance and experience during training and data collection were qualitatively evaluated from their own perspectives as well as those of the investigators.
Students collected detailed and thorough diet records and generally reported positive feedback regarding training and data collection. Frequent supervision of students during data collection proved to be extremely worthwhile. While rural participants were amenable to having students follow them, students faced several challenges in assessing the diets of urban participants. These challenges may best be addressed by separately training these participants beforehand.
With adequate training and supervision, university students may be a useful and cost-effective resource for large-scale dietary surveys in regions where their use would be practical and culturally appropriate. Further research is warranted to study how well this approach may be adapted outside Mongolia and to other dietary assessment methods and technologies.