Why do children make the food choices they do - A participatory action research study
Waddingham, SL, Why do children make the food choices they do - A participatory action research study, Dietitians Association of Australia 33rd National Conference, 19-21 May, 2016, Melbourne, Australia (2016) [Conference Extract]
There is global consensus that the establishment of healthy eating habits in childhood is important for growth, development and future protection against chronic conditions. We used participatory action research to discover from the children themselves why they make the food choices they do. A convenience sample of 80-100 students was used from a primary school in Hobart, Tasmania. Five action learning cycles were used to collect data from the children and the canteen. Data were collected from an open class discussion, the canteen and two Discovery Days (where children worked in groups to design a healthy menu). Information about foods consumed was classified as ‘red’, ‘amber’ or ‘green’ using current evidence-based guidelines about food’s health characteristics. Descriptive statistics and conventional content analysis was used to identify themes that emerged. Although ‘green’ foods featured on menus, ‘red’ foods were common choices when children were asked about favourite canteen foods and when designing their own menu. ‘Red’ and ‘Amber’ foods also dominated canteen foods offered. Emerging themes describing children’s decision-making criteria include; pleasure, physical properties, consensus, versatility, weather dependant and ostensive logic. Our study found that children themselves are reliable informants about what factors influence their food choice. A child-centred approach could be the foundation required to build programs that supports healthy decision-making behaviours and result in more effective healthy eating outcomes. We propose that school health promotion programs include the availability of mostly ‘green’ foods and are based on information from children’s own decision-making criteria about food choice.