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Nutrición Hospitalaria

versión On-line ISSN 1699-5198versión impresa ISSN 0212-1611

Nutr. Hosp. vol.26 no.5 Madrid sep./oct. 2011




Assessment of actual food portions sizes in a sample of adolescents from Cochabamba (Bolivia)

Cuantificación de los tamaños de porciones de alimentos en una muestra de adolescentes cochabambinos (Bolivia)






Recent studies in Bolivia described increasing levels of overweight in women of childbearing age, adolescents1 and university students,2 while under nutrition remained highly prevalent in some regions.3 Such epidemiological picture can be partially due to socio-economic disparities in food availability at household level.4

In 2004, a semi-quantitative food-frequencyquestionnaire (SFFQ) was developed for estimating food intake of Bolivian school attending adolescents and compared with a three-days record.5 Since some overestimations were identified, probably due to the use of adult portion sizes, a further calibration of the instrument by measuring actual adolescents´ portion sizes was necessary. Hence, this study´s purpose was to assess and report on the actual portion sizes, in weight (g) and household utensil as measurement units, of foods consumed by a sample of Bolivian adolescents.

The study lasted for 21 days during which the food intake of six participants from each age and gender (population: 12-18 yrs; half girls) was measured daily. In total 126 adolescents from Cochabamba´s "Rivera De Guzman" primary and "Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada" secondary schools were asked to participate, but only 88 returned complete and useful forms: 46 boys (mean age 13.9, SD 1.68) and 42 girls (mean age 14.6, SD 1.85). The age difference between genders was not significant (P > 0.05). The majority of participants (62.5%) fell in the lower ages (12 to 14 yr). Gender was almost evenly distributed in the sample (48% girls). Informed written consent was obtained from each participant/guardian after the purpose, significance and the protocol of the study were fully explained. Each participant received detailed instructions on how to accurately weigh the food and beverages consumed in grams using an electronic digital scale (Tristar KW-2430 and Tristar KW-2431) and how to record the weights measured in the diary. The Ethical Committee of Universidad Técnica Privada Cosmos-Cochabamba approved the research protocol. Data analyses were performed with SPSS v. 17 software and a P-value below 0.05 was considered as statistically significant.

Participants weighed the amount of food served using the common portion as defined in the dietary weighed record sheet. The total food served weight; the number of portions served and the household utensil used to estimate the portion were recorded. Any leftover of food after eating was weighed and recorded. Leftovers were subtracted from total weight of food served to obtain the actual quantity of food eaten. Portion size was calculated by dividing the actual quantity of food eaten by the total number of portions served. Table I shows the actual food portion sizes (using household utensils) of food items that are commonly consumed by adolescents in the city of Cochabamba by gender.

Some of the mean portion sizes differ substantially (P < 0.05) between boys and girls. Boys reported bigger portion sizes for chicken, papaya, apple, watermelon, carrot, spinach, and ice cream. Girls reported bigger portion sizes than boys for fried pies, cheese, yoghurt, pineapple and tomatoes. These variations were probably due to different cooking methods applied, e.g. spinach salad vs. cooked spinach. Such variability supports our view of using average values for estimation of food intake based on the SFFQ.

This study succeeded to assess and report actual portion sizes consumed by adolescents from the Bolivian city of Cochabamba. It provides the most recent reference and recommendation of portion sizes to be used in the estimation of food intake based on questionnaires or recalls. The overestimation reported by previously published studies on Bolivian adolescents was refined and corrected.



VLIR-UOS Master´s Scholarships Program funded this research through a South-South mobility allowance for Peter Biu Ngigi. Dr. Ana Baya-Botti organized the study in Bolivia. Mrs. Aida Norma Salazar helped with study participants´ selection, training, and assisted with data collection. The Directors of "Rivera De Guzman" Primary and "Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada" Secondary Schools allowed this study to be performed. Authors want to thank all of the 88 students that kindly participated.


P. B. Ngigi, W. Verbeke and F. J. A. Pérez-Cueto
Department of Agricultural Economics. Ghent University. Ghent. Belgium.




1. Perez-Cueto FJ, Baya Botti A, Verbeke W. Prevalence of overweight in Bolivia: data on women and adolescents. Obes Rev 2009; 10(4): 373-7.         [ Links ]

2. Perez-Cueto FJ, Eulert ME. Nutritional Status of university students from La Paz, Bolivia. Nutr Hosp 2009; 24 (4): 511.         [ Links ]

3. Cruz Y, Jones A, Berti P, Larrea S. Lactancia materna, alimentación complementaria y malnutrición infantil en los Andes de Bolivia. Arch Latinoam Nutr 2010; 60: 7-14.         [ Links ]

4. Pérez-Cueto FJ, Naska A, Monterrey J, Almanza-Lopez M, Tri-chopoulou A, Kolsteren P. Monitoring food and nutrient availability in a nationally representative sample of Bolivian households. Br J Nutr 2006; 95 (3): 555-67.         [ Links ]

5. Perez-Cueto FJ, Roberfroid D, Kolsteren PW. Development and testing of a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire for Bolivian adolescents. Nutr Hosp 2006; 21 (5): 573-80.         [ Links ]



Federico J. A. Pérez-Cueto.
Department of Agricultural Economics.
Ghent University.
Coupure Links 653.
9000 Ghent. Belgium.

Recibido: 29-XI-2010.
1a Revisión: 10-III-2011.
Aceptado: 14-III-2011.

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