Food and drink purchasing habits of pupils out of school at lunchtime may be contributing to poor dietary intakes and overweight and obesity. The aim of this study was to identify the places from which purchases were made, types of food and drinks purchased and, the reasons for purchasing food or drinks out of school.
A survey of the food and drinks purchasing habits of secondary school pupils (11-16 yrs) out of school at lunchtime was conducted in Scotland in 2010. A face-to-face interview and a self-completion questionnaire was designed to identify the food outlets used at lunchtime, types of food and drinks purchased and pupils’ reasons for purchasing food or drinks out of school. Height and weight were measured and BMI centiles used to classify pupils as normal weight, overweight or obese. Results were compared by age group, sex, BMI group and level of socio-economic deprivation.
Of the 612 pupils who completed the survey, 97 % reported having access to places selling food or drinks out of school at lunchtime, and of these 63 % made purchases. A higher proportion of pupils from more deprived areas reported purchasing food or drinks out of school, but the proportion making purchases did not differ significantly by sex or BMI group. Supermarkets were the outlets from which pupils reported most often making purchases, with fewer purchasing food or drinks from fast food takeaways, and this did not differ significantly by socio-economic deprivation. Reasons for making purchases included availability of preferred food and drinks, some of which are restricted for sale in schools, and social reasons, such as wanting to be with friends. Sandwiches and non-diet soft drinks were items most commonly purchased, followed by confectionery and diet soft drinks. However, less than 10 % of all the secondary school pupils reported purchasing these foods every day.
Supermarkets, not just fast food outlets, should be considered when developing strategies to improve the dietary habits of pupils at lunchtime. The importance of food preferences and social reasons for purchasing food and drinks need to be acknowledged and integrated in future interventions.