Factors in the School Cafeteria Influencing Food Choices by High School Students. (Research Papers)

By Shannon, Christine; Story, Mary et al. | Journal of School Health, August 2002 | Go to article overview

Factors in the School Cafeteria Influencing Food Choices by High School Students. (Research Papers)


Shannon, Christine, Story, Mary, Fulkerson, Jayne A., French, Simone A., Journal of School Health


Healthy eating during adolescence helps youth to achieve full growth potential, to promote health and well-being, and to reduce the risk of chronic diseases in adulthood. (1) Total nutrient needs are higher during adolescence than at any other time in the life cycle because of the high rates of physical growth and development. (2,3) Unhealthy dietary patterns developed during childhood and adolescence may create an increased risk for chronic diseases later in life, such as heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. (1) Furthermore, eating and food choice patterns established during youth likely influence long-term behaviors. (4)

Despite the importance of healthful eating during adolescence, recent national, data (5) showed that most US adolescents do not meet national dietary recommendations. Only about 1% of adolescent males and females met national recommendations for all Food Guide Pyramid groups, while 18% of females and 7% of males did not meet any of the Food Guide Pyramid recommendations. (5) In addition, dietary excesses of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium commonly found among adolescents also are found across all income levels, racial/ethnic groups, and gender. (6)

Effective nutrition intervention and education strategies are needed to promote adoption of healthy eating behaviors among adolescents. Development of such strategies requires an understanding of adolescent eating behavior and factors that influence that behavior. (7) Relatively little research has investigated the factors that influence eating behavior across the general adolescent population. (7-11) A more comprehensive understanding of factors influencing adolescents' food choices would help in developing nutrition interventions and promotions targeting healthy food choices.

This study was conducted as part of the formative phase of an environmental intervention to lower dietary fat intake among adolescents in high schools by making low-fat foods more available in the school food environment, and by promoting purchase of these low-fat foods. The Trying Alternative Cafeteria Options in Schools study (TACOS) is currently being conducted over a two-year period in 20 secondary schools in the Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., areas. Specific objectives of this study were:

* to examine perceived influences on adolescents' food choices, particularly in the school cafeteria. Specific factors explored were health concerns, labeling and nutrition information, taste, cost, availability, and peers.

* to determine whether these factors vary by gender, grade level, or adolescents' health and weight concerns.

* to provide recommendations regarding effective promotions of healthy, low-fat foods in the school cafeteria based on factors found to be associated with food choices.

METHODS

Sample and Procedure

Participants were a convenience sample drawn from a senior high school (grades 10 through 12) of approximately 2,200 students in the Minneapolis, Minn., metropolitan area, which served as the pilot school for the TACOS study. Students were approached by study staff during lunch periods in the school cafeteria and invited to complete an anonymous survey about factors influencing their food choices, particularly in the school cafeteria. All surveys were administered during the four lunch periods on one day in October 1999.

Three hundred surveys were distributed. Of 294 surveys returned (98% response rate), five were not usable due to insincere reporting (a patterned response throughout the survey), resulting in a total of 289 surveys for analysis. The survey sample consisted of 129 males (45%) and 158 females (55%). Approximately 39% of students were in 10th grade, 33% in 11th grade, and 28% in 12th grade. The survey was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Minnesota prior to administration. …

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