The objective of this study was to develop a Chinese Healthy Eating Index (CHEI) based on the updated Dietary Guidelines for Chinese (DGC-2016) and to apply it in the 2011 China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS-2011) to assess diet quality and its association with typical sociodemographic/economic factors. Data from 14,584 participants (≥2 years) from the CHNS-2011, including three 24-h dietary recalls and additional variables, were used to develop the CHEI. The standard portion size was applied to quantify food consumption. The CHEI was designed as a continuous scoring system, comprising 17 components; the maximum total score is 100. The mean, 1st and 99th percentiles of the CHEI score were 52.4, 27.6 and 78.3, respectively. Young and middle-aged adults scored better than the elderly. Diet insufficiency was chiefly manifested in fruits, dairy, whole grains and poultry; diet excess was mainly reflected in red meat, cooking oils and sodium. The CHEI was positively associated with education and urbanization levels; current smokers and unmarried people obtained relative low CHEI scores. Occupation and body mass index (BMI) were also related to the CHEI. Our findings indicate that the CHEI is capable of recognizing differences in diet quality among the Chinese, and it is sensitive to typical sociodemographic/economic factors.
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