Validity and Interrater Reliability of the Visual Quarter-Waste Method for Assessing Food Waste in Middle School and High School Cafeteria Settings



      Measuring food waste (ie, plate waste) in school cafeterias is an important tool to evaluate the effectiveness of school nutrition policies and interventions aimed at increasing consumption of healthier meals. Visual assessment methods are frequently applied in plate waste studies because they are more convenient than weighing. The visual quarter-waste method has become a common tool in studies of school meal waste and consumption, but previous studies of its validity and reliability have used correlation coefficients, which measure association but not necessarily agreement.


      The aims of this study were to determine, using a statistic measuring interrater agreement, whether the visual quarter-waste method is valid and reliable for assessing food waste in a school cafeteria setting when compared with the gold standard of weighed plate waste.


      To evaluate validity, researchers used the visual quarter-waste method and weighed food waste from 748 trays at four middle schools and five high schools in one school district in Washington State during May 2014. To assess interrater reliability, researcher pairs independently assessed 59 of the same trays using the visual quarter-waste method. Both validity and reliability were assessed using a weighted κ coefficient.


      For validity, as compared with the measured weight, 45% of foods assessed using the visual quarter-waste method were in almost perfect agreement, 42% of foods were in substantial agreement, 10% were in moderate agreement, and 3% were in slight agreement. For interrater reliability between pairs of visual assessors, 46% of foods were in perfect agreement, 31% were in almost perfect agreement, 15% were in substantial agreement, and 8% were in moderate agreement.


      These results suggest that the visual quarter-waste method is a valid and reliable tool for measuring plate waste in school cafeteria settings.


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      K. M. Getts is a research coordinator, Center for Public Health Nutrition, University of Washington School of Public Health, Seattle.


      E. L. Quinn is a research coordinator, Center for Public Health Nutrition, University of Washington School of Public Health, Seattle.


      D. B. Johnson is a professor emeritus, Nutritional Sciences Program, Department of Health Services, University of Washington School of Public Health, Seattle.


      J. J. Otten is an assistant professor, Nutritional Sciences Program, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, University of Washington School of Public Health, Seattle.