The objective was to observe and document food behaviours of secondary school pupils from schools in a London borough. The research design combined a number of methods which included geographic information system (GIS) mapping of food outlets around three schools, systemised observations of food purchasing in those outlets before, during and after school, and focus groups conducted with pupils of those schools to gather their views in respect to those food choices.
Results are summarised under the five ‘A’s of Access, Availability, Affordability and Acceptability & Attitudes:
Access in that there were concentrations of food outlets around the schools. The majority of pupil food purchases were from newsagents, small local shops and supermarkets of chocolate, crisps (potato chips), fizzy drinks and energy drinks. Availability of fast food and unhealthy options were a feature of the streets surrounding the schools, with 200 m the optimal distance pupils were prepared to walk from and back to school at lunchtime.
Affordability was ensured by the use of a consumer mentality and pupils sought out value for money offers; group purchasing of ‘two for one’ type offers encouraged this trend. Pupils reported healthy items on sale in school as expensive, and also that food was often sold in smaller portion sizes than that available from external food outlets.
Acceptability and Attitudes, in that school food was not seen as ‘cool’, queuing for school food was not acceptable but queuing for food from takeaways was not viewed negatively; for younger pupils energy drinks were ‘cool’.
In conclusion, pupils recognised that school food was healthier but provided several reasons for not eating in school related to the five ‘A’s above.