Scottish Food Practices: Household food practices and the use of dietary information
This report presents findings from The Scottish Food Practices study, designed to investigate what and how households across Scotland use dietary information (if at all) when cooking/eating at home, shopping for food and eating outside the home.The study aims to inform the work of Food Standards Scotland (FSS) as they develop new dietary guidance that is accessible and suitable for different population groups in Scotland. The study explores the extent to which dietary information was available, and how it was perceived and taken into account by households when cooking, eating and purchasing food, both in and outside of the home.The study adopted an in-depth qualitative approach with ten households, including those on low incomes, families with younger and older children, single-person households and older adults. Participants were recruited via networks of third sector and food advocacy organisations, as well as via NHS and FSS contacts. Fieldwork with participating households took place between January and March 2020; it ended earlier than planned, due to the social distancing restrictions put in place to control the COVID-19 outbreak.The research design comprised of three visits with each household.1. A semi-structured interview was carried out with the key participant (and other household members if they wished), followed by a photographic ‘kitchen tour’. Participants were asked about their typical patterns of cooking/eating at home, food shopping, and eating outside the home, with particular reference to dietary information.2. A video-recorded food shopping trip was conducted with the household member who was primarily responsible for food shopping in each household.3. An observation took place with one or more household members when ‘eating out of home’.Across households, participants reported having a good general understanding of dietary information. Nonetheless, this knowledge seemed to be inconsistently or rarely applied by households when purchasing food, or when eating in and out of the home. This was a consequence of participants’ apparent misunderstanding of some of the information available to them, contradictions in guidance as perceived by participants, and participants’ reliance on knowledge gained through their own lives or experiences (experiential knowledge). Price was the key deciding factor informing participants’ food purchasing decisions, except in cases where health conditions and/or special dietary requirements made it essential to pay closer attention to dietary information on food packaging.The research provides some pointers for FSS regarding the development of dietary guidance in terms of clarity of information required by consumers. This relates to addressing the interpretation of traffic light labelling and the incorporation of guidance into a healthy diet for those living with/shopping for specific health conditions, allergies, intolerances or preferences. Using price and ‘value for money’ could be a way to leverage healthier food choices in Scotland. Experiential, ‘common sense’ knowledge is important to households therefore an understanding and awareness of this, including among health care professionals, is important when considering the acceptability and efficacy of dietary guidance or information. COVID-19 has impacted on many aspects of food and eating for people in Scotland, perhaps especially so for those whose income, health or vulnerability has been affected in some way. Finding ways to support households to manage their physical and mental health and dietary preferences/needs, despite these ongoing challenges, therefore continues to be important.