Unique data about Danes’ eating and exercise habits

Monday 23 Jun 14


Sisse Fagt
Senior adviser
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 74 22

For several decades the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, has studied what Danes eat and how much they exercise. These studies have created a unique dataset, which is used for a range of purposes from developing initiatives that promote healthy dietary habits to evaluating whether Danes are exposed to risks of disease through their diet. The study is also used by researchers, health professionals, the government, the food industry and the media.

Since 1985 the National Food Institute has obtained information about Danes’ dietary and exercise habits by conducting comprehensive national studies of what Danes eat. Since 2000 the institute has also collected more detailed information about how much Danes exercise.

Facts can document development and bust myths

In total, almost 20,000 Danes have taken part in the Danish National Survey of Diet and Physical Activity (DANSDA). As the data collection spans over 30 years, the National Food Institute can measure changes in the population’s dietary and physical activity over time.

On the basis of DANSDA the National Food Institute has for example been able to document that Danes ate approximately 100 grams more fruit and vegetables in 2013 compared to 1995. Data also show that between 2004 and 2013 there has been a fivefold increase in the number of Danes who eat a sufficient amount of wholegrain.

Data from the study can also be used to bust myths about Danes’ dietary habits. The figures have, for example, been used to show that Danes are not a nation of fast food eaters and that they have not abandoned the traditional meal patterns, as they have sometimes been accused of.

DANSDA has also shown that Danes’ dietary habits are relatively stable and they have not turned their backs on the traditional Danish diet: Meatballs and potatoes are still popular – even among young people.

Scientific foundation

The comprehensive dataset is used as the scientific basis when authorities develop the official dietary recommendations and target information about health and nutrition.

It is also used when the National Food Institute has to assess whether the population is exposed to health risks through their diet. This could be because the Danish population's intake of a harmful substance (e.g. arsenic) is too large, or their intake of a health-beneficial substance (e.g. iodine) is too low.

Ordering datasets

The food industry and organisations can also benefit from DANSDA. If, for example, a business wants to know which parts of the population eat the kind of food it produces, or whether there is an untapped target group, the National Food Institute can – on a consultancy basis – identify these groups using data from the study.

The data can also be used to determine whether an organisation's efforts to increase or reduce people's intake of a certain type of food has had the intended effect.

Measuring both action and attitude

DANSDA uses both quantitative and qualitative methods. In the quantitative methods participants register what they eat and drink and how much they exercise throughout an entire week. Participants are also asked about their sociodemographic background and meal patterns, as well as their knowledge of and attitudes towards healthy eating and exercise.

In the qualitative methods a small selection of the participants are interviewed in depth about specific subjects that relate to nutrition and exercise.

By comparing this data it is possible to compare people’s actual diet and exercise habits with their own experience of how healthy they eat and how much they exercise.

Read more

Read about the way DANSDA is structured and what the results are used for in the National Food Institute’s E-article: Danskernes kost- og aktivitetsvaner under lup (pdf) (available in Danish only).

The article was prepared in connection with the conference Fødevare Agenda 2014 organised by Dansk Kommunikationsforening, in which National Food Institute head of division Gitte Gross og senior adviser Agnes N. Petersen participated as speakers.

The results from DANSDA have been published in several reports and articles. Download these publications from the National Food Institute’s website.

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