Lunch time food and drink purchasing habits in Scottish secondary school pupils: a pilot study.
(2017) Lunch time food and drink purchasing habits in Scottish secondary school pupils: a pilot study., no. 87.
Background: Adolescence is a critical period for the formation of dietary behaviours and body weight patterns. In Scotland, school meal uptake is low and most secondary school pupils choose to leave the school at lunch time. Social and functional factors provide barriers to school meal uptake. Food and drink on sale in the vicinity of the school are not regulated and young people have increasingly easy access to foods high in saturated fatty acids, sugar and salt at lunch time. The food environment around and within schools is receiving increasing attention in policies and interventions aimed at reducing obesity in youth. Aim: The main aim of this study was to explore the nutrition of the food environment generally attended by pupils of secondary schools within the area, and compare with the food available within the schools. Barriers to school meal uptake were investigated. Methods: This study assessed the dietary intakes of pupils from two secondary schools over four lunch times. The food outlets within 1 kilometre (km) of each school were mapped and used to determine the association between overweight and obesity in the pupils with food outlet density and type. Quantitative data on barriers to school meal uptake was recorded using a questionnaire. Results: Street meals mean (+SD) energy, fat and sodium intakes 932.1g (+572.56), 46g, 1530.6mg (+1321.35) respectively were significantly different from the school meals and packed lunches, all p<0.05. Food outlet proximity to school or type and prevalence of overweight and obesity were not significantly associated, neither was type of lunch and pupil BMI. To be with friends was important in choosing where to purchase lunch. Improvements to food quality and variety and reducing queuing times would encourage pupils to purchase a school meal more often. Conclusion: Multiple components to the food environment in and around schools influence food and drink purchasing habits in youths. Collaborating with food vendors to improve the nutritionally quality of food and drink on sale within the vicinity of the school is one strategy that may be employed. School meals packed lunches offer a more nutritious meal than street meals at lunch time. Young people should be consulted on changes to the school canteen that would encourage school meal uptake. The importance of social factors to young people's food purchasing habits should not be underestimated and further research in this field will provide valuable advice to policies and initiatives aimed at reducing childhood obesity.