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Test-retest reproducibility of a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) and estimated effects on disease risk in the Norwegian Women and Cancer Study (NOWAC)

Christine L Parr1*, Marit B Veierød1, Petter Laake1, Eiliv Lund2 and Anette Hjartåker1

Author affiliations

1 Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Department of Biostatistics, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1122 Blindern, N-0317 Oslo, Norway

2 Institute of Community Medicine, University of Tromsø, N-9037 Tromsø, Norway

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Citation and License

Nutrition Journal 2006, 5:4  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-5-4

Published: 31 January 2006



The Norwegian Women and Cancer Study (NOWAC) is a national population-based cohort study with 102 443 women enrolled at age 30–70 y from 1991 to 1997. The present study was a methodological sub-study to assess the test-retest reproducibility of the NOWAC food frequency questionnaire (FFQ), and to study how measurement errors in the data can affect estimates of disease risk.


A random sample of 2000 women aged 46–75 y was drawn from the cohort in 2002. A self-instructive health and lifestyle questionnaire with a FFQ section was mailed to the same subjects twice (test-retest), about three months apart, with a response rate of 75%. The FFQ was designed to assess habitual diet over the past year. We assess the reproducibility of single questions, food groups, energy, and nutrients with several statistical measures. We also demonstrate the method of regression calibration to correct disease risk estimates for measurement error. Alcohol intake (g/day) and high blood pressure (yes/no) is used in the example.


For single foods there were some indications of seasonal reporting bias. For food groups and nutrients the reliability coefficients ranged from 0.5–0.8, and Pearson's r, Spearman's rs, and two intraclass correlation coefficients gave similar results. Although alcohol intake had relatively high reproducibility (r = 0.72), odds ratio estimates for the association with blood pressure were attenuated towards the null value compared to estimates corrected by regression calibration.


The level of reproducibility observed for the FFQ used in the NOWAC study is within the range reported for similar instruments, but may attenuate estimates of disease risk.