Taking a long view in understanding children and young people's diets

  • O'Connell, Rebecca (PI)
  • Owen, Charlie (CoI)
  • Simon, Antonia (CoI)
  • Knight, Abigail (Researcher)
  • Hollingworth, Katie (Researcher)

Project: Research

Project Details


Funder; ESRC and Public Health England
Value: GBP 260 K
Description: Given that social policies seek to influence behaviour, government is concerned to understand how behaviour changes over time. Parental employment and family food practices are central to public policy concerns about individual and community wellbeing. Whilst food and eating practices are typically habitual, they can change in response to expected and unexpected transitions and interventions. They may also play a part in coping with change. Changes in parental employment, family income, and life events such as the birth of a child, school transfer or family breakdown are examples of possible influences on the eating habits of children and families. But while we know that children's food intake impacts upon later life chances and that food and eating practices change over the life course, not enough is known about the processes of change. For example, how change comes about or the role that children themselves or different environments play. Following children and their families over time and using a mixed methods approach offers the possibility of developing a better and more realistic understanding of how and why individuals and communities live - and eat - as they do as well as what the intended and unintended consequences of policies themselves might be. Although there is currently interest in linking quantitative and qualitative data, it has been noted that there is little suitable data which might permit effective linkage in this area. The Food Practices and Working Families study provides a unique opportunity to take a longitudinal mixed methods approach, offering as it does data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) and a sample of working parents and their children also drawn from the NDNS. The study, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and Department of Health until October 2011, takes a multi-method approach, including secondary analysis of the NDNS and other large datasets and in-depth interviews with 48 children and their parents to consider how parental employment shapes eating habits and the diets of young children and the role different settings and children themselves play. A follow-up in-depth interview study with the families who took part in the Food Practices and Working Families Study will be carried out to gain further understandings of how children and young people eat; the contexts in their lives in which they eat; and the particular transitions and experiences that children and parents encounter over time; and how these shape changes in their food practices, preferences and diets. Further secondary analysis of two new waves of the NDNS cross-sectional data will also be undertaken to consider changes over time and how family meal patterns relate to socio demographic factors and age of child. The findings will help to inform policies concerned with childhood obesity, healthy lifestyles, and children's wellbeing. Through its innovative methodology, linking mixed methods research to a national survey, the study also seeks to contribute to furthering the exploitation of quantitative longitudinal data resources.
Effective start/end date2/10/1130/07/14


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