In bites in pieces: a study of food consumption of Edinburgh primary school children
This study originated from a desire to obtain relevant data that could guide the development of future strategies of intervention in the nutrition of primary school children. An ecosystemic approach was adopted to incorporate the three dimensions believed to be determinant to the eating behaviour namely, the environment, the consumer of foods with bio-psychological and socio-cultural characteristics, and the interactions between environment and consumer. It was hypothesized that these dimensions contributed to developing and reinforcing among children the set of values (referred to as a culture of childhood) underlying their behaviour. The study addressed itself to the following elements of the ecosystemic model retained: availability of food in the school environment and its influence on patterns and quality of consumption, the physical characteristics of foods consumed by children, socio-economical factors, and patterns of consumption of children. A 24-hour recall was obtained from 192 children attending two private schools and two schools located in a depressed area of Edinburgh; a game of pretend was used with these respondents. An inventory of shops located in the environment of each school was also done. This data collection was complemented with 22 ethnographic interviews. The findings indicate that the proximity of shops in the school environment was related to the quality and time of food consumption; so was the amount of pocket money available. The fact of attending a school in a depressed area rather than a private school was found to be related to a smaller consumption of fruit, vegetables (if the school dinner is excluded) and milk and to a larger consumption of chips. "Strong tastes", hard, effervescent or crispy texture, and appealing shapes were found to be typical characteristics of foods consumed in the absence of adults. Proportionately more of these foods had been eaten at room temperature or frozen than warm or cold and more of them were the size of a mouthful or smaller than of a bigger size. The visual qualities of foods were not found to be of primary importance in food selection. Eating in the absence of adults was also found to be associated with specific patterns of consumption such as the non-use of utensils and dishes, unstructured settings and consumption at any time. The data obtained through the ethnographic interviews supported most of these findings and revealed that the central cultural theme underlying children's food preferences is that eating must not interfere with playing. This theme is encapsulated in the phrase "having a playpiece at playtime in the playground". Suggestions for intervention and research are proposed.