The influence of the secondary school setting on the food practices of young teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds in Scotland
In this paper, we explore the secondary school environment as an important context for understanding young teenagers' eating habits and food practices. We draw on data collected during semi-structured interviews with 36 young teenagers (aged 13/14 years) living in disadvantaged circumstances in Scotland. We found that the systems inherent in school had an impact on what, where and when participants ate their lunch. Each school had rules governing use of the school dining hall and participants sometimes chose to leave this environment to buy food outside school premises. Our interviews showed that parents determined how much money young people took to school and, therefore, had some control over their food choices. Participants rarely spoke of giving priority to food and eating during the non-curriculum parts of the school day, preferring to spend time ‘hanging out’ with friends. Eating with friends was sometimes reported as a cause of anxiety, particularly when participants had concerns about body image, appetite or appearance. We suggest that young teenagers' dislike for queuing for food, their ability to budget for food at school and their desire to maximize time spent with friends influence food choices; therefore, these are issues which have implications for health education and will be of interest to those responsible for school meal provision.