‘We know what we should eat but we don’t …’: a qualitative study in Irish secondary schools

Type Article

Journal Article


S. Browne; C. Barron; A. Staines; M. R. Sweeney

Year of publication



Health Promot Int








Healthy eating opportunities for young people need to be provided in the school setting. Links between formal education and local policies and practices, and active involvement of students are emphasized in whole school approaches to health promotion. In many jurisdictions, schools struggle to provide nutritious food that is acceptable to students. The aim of this study was to conduct an in-depth exploration of school food and students' food choice with students, teachers and principals in six Irish secondary schools. Students conducted their own focus groups with peers, and a researcher conducted focus groups with teachers and one-to-one interviews with principals. Students, teachers and principals expressed dissatisfaction with food provision within their respective schools and reported unhealthy dietary behaviours among the student body as the norm. Divergent views, however, emerged regarding education, knowledge and the primary drivers of food choice. Teachers and principals saw a role for more education modules and students believed environmental infrastructures, practices and policies needed to be addressed to improve behaviours. This consultation with students, teachers and principals highlight that, in addition to education, the social and environmental aspects of food choice and eating at school deserve attention in future research and policy.