ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Asking children about their food purchasing behaviour: Lessons for survey design

Wendy Wills, Jennie Macdiarmid, Lindsey Masson, Catherine Bromley, Leone Craig, Geraldine McNeill

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 6 - Law Building, Room 022
Date: 2012-07-11 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Last modified: 2012-06-19


The Survey of Diet and Food Purchases among Children in Scotland (2010) was commissioned by Food Standards Agency Scotland (FSAS) to assess whether young people were meeting Scottish dietary target for non-milk extrinsic sugars. A new module was developed for this survey to explore influences on children’s food purchasing behaviour and the development of this module is the focus of this paper.
The new module reflects FSAS and Scottish Government interest in foods purchased by children ‘beyond the school gate’. The main objectives were to determine what foods and drinks children purchase outside of school (on the way to and from school, at breaktime and lunchtime), and to explore factors that influence whether children go outside school to purchase food. We incorporated questions about access (e.g. transport; money), supply (e.g. opportunity to purchase food), social context (e.g. travel companions), school context (e.g. whether children are allowed to leave school at break/lunch times) and other motivations (e.g. whether the child eats breakfast at home).
The development phase involved decisions about what age group of children would be investigated, and whether children or their parents would answer these questions. This raised issues of privacy and reliability as parents may not be aware of their children’s food purchasing behaviour and children may not wish to reveal this information in front of their parents. The new questions were incorporated into a face-to-face interview and a self-completion questionnaire.
Cognitive testing of the new questions with 5 parents and 17 children highlighted that some younger children were unable to read or understand the questions whilst some older children found the routing of questions difficult. Few children read the instructions provided on the questionnaire prior to completing it therefore it was decided that, for primary school children (7-11yrs) all questions would be asked by interview, and only secondary school children (12-16yrs) would be asked to complete the questionnaire. 1217 children completed the Food Purchasing Module. Many children continued to misunderstand the routing in the questionnaire, despite changes that were made following the cognitive testing. Analysis was conducted only on children who provided consistent information, e.g. we excluded those who said they had no opportunity to buy food at lunchtime but then went on to report the foods that they bought. This decision restricted the numbers available for analysis.
The paper will conclude with recommendations for further survey design work which focuses on children’s food purchasing behaviours.