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A qualitative study investigating food choices and perceived psychosocial influences on eating behaviours in secondary school students

Calvert, Sian and Dempsey, Robert Christopher and Povey, Rachel (2020) A qualitative study investigating food choices and perceived psychosocial influences on eating behaviours in secondary school students. British Food Journal. ISSN 0007-070X (In Press)

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Abstract

Childhood obesity is a major global health concern. Understanding children’s and adolescents’ eating behaviours, and promoting healthier behaviours, is key for reducing the negative health outcomes associated with obesity. The current study explored the perceptions of healthy eating behaviours and the influences on eating behaviours amongst 11-to-13-year-old secondary school students. Nine semi-structured same-sex focus group discussions were conducted in schools located in deprived areas of England, with the discussions subjected to a thematic framework analysis. Three main constructs were identified in the analysis: (1) eating patterns and lifestyle, (2) social influences, and (3) environmental influences. Participants understood what healthy eating behaviours are, and the benefits of eating healthy, yet reported irregular mealtimes and consuming unhealthy snacks. Students reported that their parents and fellow student peers were strong influences on their own eating behaviours, with girls subjected to being teased by male students for attempting to eat healthily. Finally, students perceived that unhealthy foods were cheaper, tasted better and were readily available in their social environments than healthier options, making healthier behaviours less likely to occur. Findings indicate that students had a good understanding of healthy eating behaviours but did not always practise them and are seemingly influenced by their social and environmental context. The promotion of healthier eating in this age group needs to challenge the misperceptions associated with the accessibility and social acceptability of unhealthy food items.

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