| Food Composition Data: A User's Perspective (1987) |
|Report and recommendations of the conference|
This conference reviewed the field of food composition data from the point of view of the user. A number of areas of concern were discussed and some specific issues raised concerning the development of the field. The conference was convened by INFOODS in part to gain insight into what INFOODS itself should be doing in the future. To this end it formulated a number of specific recommendations for INFOODS activities:
1. People working with the diverse aspects of food composition data are not strongly aware of the similarities of their efforts and of the issues they must deal with. This has led to a tradition of independent activities resulting in incompatibilities and duplication of effort. INFOODS is encouraged to work to develop a sense of community within the field. This effort, in part, involves communication, and it is therefore recommended that INFOODS publish a Journal of Food Analysis and Composition as well as compile international directories of food composition data and of workers in various facets of the field.
2. Standards or guidelines are needed in several areas:
- data gathering: a manual detailing sampling and analytic methods for the gathering of food composition data;
- terminology: comprehensive, international terminology for describing food composition data, especially the naming and classification of foods;
- data interchange: a standardized scheme for the interchange of food composition data to facilitate the movement of such data around the world;
- data manipulation: standardized statistical and mathematical procedures for manipulating data, especially in the areas of summary statistics and imputation of missing data;
- usage: suggestions on how food composition data should be utilized in various areas, such as epidemiology and dietary counselling.
3. Recently, attention has focused on the variability of human consumption and of human requirements for nutrients. This variability is complemented by the variability of food composition, an area which has been little studied and is poorly documented. This entire area of food data variability, reflecting inherent differences in foods as well as differences of analytic methodology, needs to be carefully studied, with special attention paid to identifying, measuring, and evaluating the components of variability, and additional attention to documenting and minimizing it where possible.
4. A major goal for the next few years is to make food composition data easily available on an international basis. It appears, however, that there may be legal difficulties developing. There are a number of consultants, companies, and even countries that produce and market data bases and food computer systems. These individuals and organizations are becoming aware of the commercial value of food composition data, and there are suggestions that the users of food composition data may soon have to deal with legal obstacles to the free interchange of their data. As such developments are monitored, these problems, and the users' options in response, need to be explored. A related problem, in the sense that it is a legal problem, is that of the responsibility for the accuracy and updating of data files. The question of who is legally responsible for errors that might result from calculations based on data bases is one that has arisen in other fields, and may well arise in the area of food composition data.
In summary, the participants at the INFOODS Users and Needs conference strongly supported the purpose and goals of INFOODS, offered the suggestions outlined above for what INFOODS should do, and urged INFOODS to begin working on them speedily.