Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Energy density of diets reported by American adults: association with food group intake, nutrient intake, and body weight



Recent reports suggest that dietary energy density may play a role in regulation of food intake. However, little is known about the energy density of diets consumed by free-living populations; therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine demographic, health, and nutritional correlates of energy density of self-reported diets.


Using data from the NHANES III (n=13 400), dietary energy density was defined three ways: (1) energy content (kJ/g) of all foods and beverages reported or ED1, (2) energy content (kJ/g) of all foods and energy yielding beverages or ED2, and (3) energy content (kJ/g) of all foods (no beverages) or ED3. Multiple linear or logistic regression methods were used to examine the association of energy density with intake of energy, nutrients, food groups, and body mass index (BMI). We computed the ratios of within- to between-person variance for the three energy density variables using the second recall obtained from the second exam subsample of NHANES III (n=1037).


The mean ED1, ED2, and ED3, respectively, were 3.84±0.02, 5.45±0.03, and 8.03±0.03. Dietary intakes of energy, fat, and low-nutrient-density foods were related positively, but amounts of micronutrients, fruit, and vegetables were related inversely with all types of energy density (P<0.0001). ED2 and ED3 were modest positive predictors of BMI in both men and women (P≤0.03). The ratios of within- to between-person components of variance for ED1, ED2, and ED3 were 1.34, 2.05, and 1.53, respectively.


High-energy-density diets in the US were characterized by low fruit and vegetable intake, and high BMI.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Poppitt SD, Prentice AM . Energy density and its role in the control offood intake: evidence from metabolic and community studies. Appetite 1996; 26: 153–174.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Stubbs J, Ferres S, Horgan G . Energy density of foods: effects on energy intake. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2000; 406: 481–515.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bell EA, Castellanos VH, Pelkman CL, Thorwart ML, Rolls BJ . Energy density of foods affects energy intake in normal-weight women. Am J Clin Nutr 1998; 67: 412–420.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Rolls BJ, Bell EA, Castellanos VH, Chow M, Pelkman CL, Thorwart ML . Energy density but not fat content of foods affected energy intake in lean and obese women. Am J Clin Nutr 1999; 69: 863–871.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Bell EA, Rolls BJ . Energy density of foods affects energy intake across multiple levels of fat content in lean and obese women. Am J Clin Nutr 2001; 73: 1010–1018.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Rolls BJ . The role of energy density in the overconsumption of fat. J Nutr 2000; 130: 268S–271S.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Stookey JD . Energy density, energy intake and weight status in a large free-living sample of Chinese adults: exploring the underlying roles of fat, protein, carbohydrate, fiber, and water intakes. Eur J Clin Nutr 2001; 55: 349–359.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Cuco G, Arija V, Marti-Henneberg C, Fernandez-Ballart J . Food and nutritional profile of high energy density consumers in an adult Mediterranean population. Eur J Clin Nutr 2001; 55: 192–199.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Cox DN, Mela DJ . Determination of energy density of freely selected diets: methodological issues and implications. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2000; 24: 49–54.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. National Center for Health Statistics. Plan and operation of the third national health and nutrition examination survey, 1988–1994. US Government Printing Office: Washington, DC; 1994. (Series 1, 32, DHHS Publication (PHS) 94 1308.).

  11. Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). NHANES III Second Exam File Documentation, July 1999, Accessed Feb 2003.

  12. Kant AK . Consumption of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods by adult Americans: nutritional and health implications. The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988–1994. Am J Clin Nutr 2000; 72: 929–936.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids, Pre publication copy. National Academy Press: Washington, DC; 2002.

  14. SAS Institute Inc. SAS user's guide. Release 8.1. Cary, NC; 2000.

  15. Research Triangle Institute. SUDAAN User's manual. Release 8.0. Research Triangle Park, NC 2001.

  16. Korn EL, Graubard BI . Analysis of health surveys 1999. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.: New York, pp 19–23.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  17. Armstrong BG . The effects of measurement errors on relative risk in regressions. Am J Epidemiol 1990; 132: 1176–1184.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Stubbs RJ, Johnstone AM, O'Reilly LM, Barton K, Reid C . The effect of covertly manipulating the energy density of mixed diets on ad libitum food intake in pseudo free-living humans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1998; 22: 980–987.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Yao M, Roberts SB . Dietary energy density and weight regulation. Nut Rev 2001; 59: 247–258.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. de Castro JM . Dietary energy density is associated with increased intake in free living humans. J Nutr 2004; 134: 335–341.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Willett W . Nature of variation in diet. In: Willett W (ed) Nutritional epidemiology, 2nd edn Oxford University Press: New York; 1998. pp 33–49.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  22. Briefel RR, McDowell MA, Alaimo K, Caughman CR, Bischof AL, Carroll MD, Johnson CL . Total energy intake of the US population: Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988–1991. Am J Clin Nutr 1995; 62 (suppl): 1072S–1080S.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Kant AK . The nature of dietary reporting by adults in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988–94. J Am Coll Nutr 2002; 21: 315–327.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Pryer JA, Vrijheid M, Nichols R, Kiggins M, Elliott P . Who are the ‘Low energy reporters’ in the dietary and nutritional survey of British adults? Int J Epidemiol 1997; 29: 146–154.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Livingstone MBE . Assessment of food intakes: are we measuring what people eat? Br J Biomed Science 1995; 52: 58–67.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank Lisa Licitra Kahle for expert programming assistance.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to A K Kant.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kant, A., Graubard, B. Energy density of diets reported by American adults: association with food group intake, nutrient intake, and body weight. Int J Obes 29, 950–956 (2005).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • energy-density
  • food group intake
  • body mass index
  • components of variance
  • nutrition survey

This article is cited by


Quick links