Development and validation of a quantitative choline food frequency questionnaire for use with drinking and non-drinking pregnant women in Cape Town, South Africa

Background Although animal and human studies have demonstrated interactions between dietary choline and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, dietary choline deficiency in pregnancy is common in the US and worldwide. We sought to develop and validate a quantitative food frequency questionnaire (QFFQ) to estimate usual daily choline intake in pregnant mothers. Methods A panel of nutrition experts developed a Choline-QFFQ food item list, including sources with high choline content and the most commonly consumed choline-containing foods in the target population. A data base for choline content of each item was compiled. For reliability and validity testing in a prospective longitudinal cohort, 123 heavy drinking Cape Coloured pregnant women and 83 abstaining/light-drinking controls were recruited at their first antenatal clinic visit. At 3 prenatal study visits, each gravida was interviewed about alcohol, smoking, and drug use, and administered a 24-hour recall interview and the Choline-QFFQ. Results Across all visits and assessments, > 78% of heavy drinkers and controls reported choline intake below the Dietary Reference Intakes adequate intake level (450 mg/day). Women reported a decrease in choline intake over time on the QFFQ. Reliability of the QFFQ across visits was good-to-acceptable for 2 of 4 group-level tests and 4 of 5 individual-level tests for both drinkers and controls. When compared with 24-hr recall data, validity of the QFFQ was good-to-acceptable for 3 of 4 individual-level tests and 3 of 5 group-level tests. For controls, validity was good-to-acceptable for all 4 individual-level tests and all 5 group-level tests. Conclusions To our knowledge, this is the first quantitative choline food frequency screening questionnaire to be developed and validated for use with both heavy and non-drinking pregnant women and the first to be used in the Cape Coloured community in South Africa. Given the high prevalence of inadequate choline intake and the growing evidence that maternal choline supplementation can mitigate some of the adverse effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, this tool may be useful for both research and future clinical outreach programs.