Young people and the food environment 

We know that urban environments impact on our health, wellbeing and quality of life in many different ways. There is good evidence that this is true for children and young people. See below for an outline of our work, which goes back more than a decade, on young people and the food environment.

Healthy school food policy

Healthy school food policy can help to promote a healthy diet among Scottish children and young people. The Scottish Government has recognised the importance of schools as a setting for provision and promotion of healthy food and drinks through legislation such as the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007and policies such as the Preventing Obesity Route Map.

In 2018 (following an public consultation which we contributed to) the new plan A Healthier Future: Scotland's Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan was published. This delivery plan works towards five key outcomes:

  • children have the best start in life - they eat well and have a healthy weight
  • the food environment supports healthier choices
  • people have access to effective weight management services
  • leaders across all sectors promote healthy weight and diet
  • diet-related health inequalities are reduced

These policies have been accompanied by monitoring of selected indicators of progress.  In June 2019, new regulations on the Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools were published by the Scottish Government which will come into force in all local authorities in 2020. 

Locally, Glasgow City Council (GCC) has well established school food policies and programmes which provide and promote healthy food and drinks within schools.

We have worked with GCC and partners over several years exploring the impacts on pupils’ health and wellbeing of eating in or out of school through a portfolio of research and evaluation. 

Read our blog from a school student, giving her perspective.

The potential impact of sugar taxation on young people’s dietary intake

Our rapid evidence review in 2017 set out to improve our understanding of the likely impacts of the tax on sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs), a new regulatory measure intended to help improve the dietary intake of secondary school-age children and young people in Scotland. This was one of the recommendations made in our previous research. This review concluded that the prevalence of sugar-related health problems, and the major contribution that consumption of SSBs make to sugar in the diets of Scottish children and young people, builds a strong case for prioritising measures to reduce SSB consumption. Despite some caveats regarding possible substitution effects, the potential of reduced sugar intake for improvements in health at a population level is significant and a tax on SSBs should be considered as a part of a wider strategy to address sugar-related health problems in children and young people. 

Changing the food environment in Glasgow

We held an event in October 2013 involving pupils and teachers from five secondary schools in Glasgow at which the Glasgow Game was used to explore how the food environment in Glasgow can be changed for the better.

The Glasgow Game is based on the World Game, developed by the International Futures Forum, and is an interactive way for a group to engage in a conversation about the important issues facing Glasgow and to create recommendations regarding future actions to address challenges. 

Using data describing the city and its people from the Understanding Glasgow website, pupils explored current trends in the city, identified possible shocks to the system (e.g. a recession, welfare reform, a fuel crisis) and what the key concerns arising from these shocks would be. At the end of the event, pupils presented 12 declarations setting out actions they considered essential to improve the food environment in Glasgow.

Download the event report and watch a short film about the event

Food outlets near Glasgow secondary schools: a pilot study

In late 2011, we collaborated with local authority and academic colleagues to conduct a research study to explore the nutritional quality of samples of ‘off-site’ foods (from outlets around selected Glasgow schools) popular with pupils with statutory Scottish nutrient standards for school lunches. Approximately half of the samples exceeded recommended energy levels; over a half exceeded recommended fat and saturated fat levels; and over a third exceeded recommended salt levels.  

Our conclusions were that fast food bought outside school is of very poor nutritional value and high in fat and salt. We also found that fast food outlets commonly use targeted marketing strategies to encourage pupils to buy unhealthy food and drinks. You can read our recommendations for action in this important public health arena, in this briefing paper.  

This research was published in BMC Public Health in 2017 and our full report provides more detail regarding our methods and research tools. We held a research seminar in June 2012 where we discussed our findings and potential for action with pupils, school staff, parents and a range of professionals and decision-makers. The presentations from our seminar are available (presentation 1 and presentation 2) and a full event report is also available.  

The ‘Big Eat In’ evaluation

In 2009/10, GCC tested out a pilot ‘stay-on-site’ initiative, the ‘Big Eat In’, which was conducted in eight Glasgow secondary schools and encouraged S1 pupils to stay within school premises at lunchtime to eat a healthy lunch and engage in lunchtime activities.

This pilot was very successful and over half of Glasgow’s 30 secondary schools subsequently introduced S1 stay on site policies. We explored the ongoing sustainability and impact of these policies through commissioning the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) to investigate their practical implementation and views of pupils and staff regarding future policies.

Findings concluded that school lunchtime stay-on-site policies offer multiple benefits for secondary pupils including increased safety, healthy eating, support with the transition from primary to secondary school, and the establishment of good relationships between school staff and young people and between pupils themselves.

Download the briefing paper of the evaluation results

Download 'Evaluating the Impact of the Big Eat In’ - final report

Following the ‘Big Eat In’ evaluation, ScotCen conducted further qualitative research to explore the sustainability of lunchtime stay on site policies. Download the briefing paper.

Earlier research

Our initial research on this issue was conducted in 2006 and 2007 to explore the impacts of policies and programmes within and beyond school.  Findings from each phase of research were summarised in two briefing papers: 

Healthy Food Provision and Promotion in Primary School: What impact is it having on food choices? 

Healthy food provision and promotion in primary and secondary school: Impacts in school and beyond

Related topic: Healthy communities