ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Assessing adolescent food choice: time for a rethink?

Michelle Share, Barbara Stewart-Knox

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 6 - Law Building, Room 022
Date: 2012-07-11 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Last modified: 2012-03-08


Adolescent food choice remains poorly understood. This has consequences for the efficacy of interventions that aim to address unhealthy eating practices among young people. Some studies have attempted to study adolescent food choice through the application of adult food choice measures and have assumed that the food choice motivation factors found in adult populations are relevant for adolescents. Most studies of adolescent food choice have adopted qualitative approaches and have tended to highlight the sensory dimensions of food choice, particularly taste. While there is limited evidence of quantitative studies of adolescent food choice, this paper seeks to assist in the development of a more comprehensive understanding of the topic.

As part of a wider study on food issues among Irish adolescents (n = 397) we attempted to assess quantitatively the determinants of adolescent food choice using a food choice questionnaire (FCQ) that has been validated with adult (Steptoe et al. 1995) and used with young adult populations (Crossley & Nazir, 2001; Piggford, Raciti, Harker & Harker, 2008; Trew et al., 2005). Based on the results of a factor analysis we found that the food choice motivations in Irish adolescents differed to those reported for adults.

Whereas nine food choice motivation factors were identified in the application of the original FCQ with adults, just five were discerned in this adolescent population: health; price/convenience; religion; and animal rights. The study revealed important differences between adults and adolescents in how factors such as health and convenience are construed. Sensory items such as taste, texture and smell were shown to be less salient for adolescents than has previously been identified for adult populations.

This supports the study of Ton Nu, MacLeod and Barthelemy (1996): while French adolescents' food choices were found to be strongly determined by sensory motivations, the young people found it difficult to say why they liked a particular food. Ton Nu et al found that food choices changed for adolescents over time. This suggests we need to address how we assess adolescent food choice and indicates a need for more qualitative exploration of how adolescents associate sensory aspects of food with food choice and how they speak about this. This may be useful for the development of more valid constructs of the sensory dimensions of food. The findings suggest that a revised age-specific FCQ may be appropriate for the study of adolescent food choice motivations.