Plain language summary
Poor diet in childhood and adolescence has been recognised as a risk factor for obesity during adulthood. Public health research has found the food environment to be an important determinant of diet, specifically for this age group, and the major environments are home, school, and food outlets/leisure places. The aim of this cross-sectional study is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the types of food consumed in each environment based on data from 4636 children and adolescents in the United Kingdom. This study showed the most common eating location across all age groups was at home, and this was associated with less sugar and takeaway food consumption. Based on these results, the authors conclude that home and school are both important areas to target for public health policy, however also highlight the importance of providing healthier food options for adolescents outside of these environments.
Background: Where children eat has been linked to variations in diet quality, including the consumption of low-nutrient, energy-dense food, a recognized risk factor for obesity. Objective: The aim of this study was to provide a comprehensive analysis of consumption patterns and nutritional intake by eating location in British children with the use of a nationally representative survey. Design: Cross-sectional data from 4636 children (80,075 eating occasions) aged 1.5-18 y from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Program (2008-2014) were analyzed. Eating locations were categorized as home, school, work, leisure places, food outlets, and "on the go." Foods were classified into core (considered important or acceptable within a healthy diet) and noncore (all other foods). Other variables included the percentage of meals eaten at home, sex, ethnicity, body mass index, income, frequency of eating out, takeaway meal consumption, alcohol consumption, and smoking. Results: The main eating location across all age groups was at home (69-79% of eating occasions), with the highest energy intakes. One-third of children from the least-affluent families consumed ≤25% of meals at home. Eating more at home was associated with less sugar and takeaway food consumption. Eating occasions in leisure places, food outlets, and "on the go" combined increased with age, from 5% (1.5-3 y) to 7% (11-18 y), with higher energy intakes from noncore foods in these locations. The school environment was associated with higher intakes of core foods and reduced intakes of noncore foods in children aged 4-10 y who ate school-sourced foods. Conclusions: Home and school eating are associated with better food choices, whereas other locations are associated with poor food choices. Effective, sustained initiatives targeted at behaviors and improving access to healthy foods in leisure centers and food outlets, including food sold to eat "on the go," may improve food choices. Home remains an important target for intervention through family and nutrition education, outreach, and social marketing campaigns. This trial was registered with the ISRTCN registry (https://www.isrctn.com) as ISRCTN17261407.