Comparison of dietary intakes between a large online cohort study (Etude NutriNet-Santé) and a nationally representative cross-sectional study (Etude Nationale Nutrition Santé) in France: addressing the issue of generalizability in E-Epidemiology.

Am J Epidemiol. 2016 184(9):660-669

Andreeva VA, Deschamps V, Salanave B, Castetbon K, Verdot C, Kesse-Guyot E, Hercberg S.

Despite some advantages over traditional methods, Web-based studies elicit concerns about generalizability. To address this issue, we compared dietary intakes between an electronic (e-) cohort study and a nationally representative survey. We studied 49,443 French volunteers aged 18-74 years recruited during 2009-2010 in the NutriNet-Santé Study, a general population-based e-cohort study. The Etude Nationale Nutrition Santé (ENNS; 2006-2007), a cross-sectional study with a nationally representative sample of 2,754 French adults aged 18-74 years, served as the reference data set. Reported dietary intakes from three 24-hour dietary records were weighted and compared between the two studies via Student t tests for mean location, using a >5% cutoff for establishing practically meaningful differences. We observed similar intakes as regards carbohydrates, total lipids, protein, and total energy. However, intakes of fruit and vegetables, fiber, vitamins B6, B9, C, D, and E, iron, and magnesium were higher in the e-cohort than in the ENNS, while intakes of alcohol and nonalcoholic beverages were lower in the e-cohort. Significant sex-specific differences were observed regarding vitamins A and B12, zinc, and potassium. True intake differences, mode effects, and volunteer bias might each contribute to explaining the findings. In the future, repeated use of the same tool in large e-cohorts with heterogeneous dietary exposures could serve research purposes and supplement group-level monitoring of dietary trends.