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A focus group exploration of primary school children's perceptions and experiences of fruit and vegetables

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Increasing fruit and vegetable (FV) intake can optimise nutrition, enhance health and reduce obesity risks (Lock et al., 2005). Despite public-health initiatives to promote these benefits, consumption in UK children remains poor (National Health Service, 2009). This study explored primary-school children's perspectives of FVs aiming to gain insight into the personal, social and cultural factors that may influence inadequate intakes. Method: 

Three focus groups comprising of six randomly selected, 7–9 year old children (three boys, three girls) were conducted representing three demographically diverse primary schools in Plymouth, England. Qualitative data was generated through group discussions, tasting sessions, writing exercises and grouping activities. Three observers documented behaviour throughout. Conversations were digitally voice recorded and manually transcribed verbatim. To ensure reliability and validity, four researchers analysed each transcript and observational data to identify significant themes, frequencies and patterns (Hancock, 2002). No formal statistics were applied. The project obtained ethical approval via the University of Plymouth School of Health Professions. Results: 

Perceptions were found to be associated with four major themes: positive health benefits, knowledge, sensory properties and food safety. Preference was linked to familiarity, a uniform appearance and favoured tastes/textures (e.g. sweet). FVs considered ‘out of date’ or covered in soil, were viewed as a possible health risk. Reported usage patterns of FVs for meals/snacks were similar across all groups and lacked variety. Enjoyable experiences were associated with positive attitudes towards consumption. Family and peer influences were noted in observational and self-reported data. Lower socio economic status (SES) and age was associated with reduced familiarity, knowledge, and willingness to try. Older children and those with higher SES exhibited heightened awareness of health benefits and cited texture and quality as a determinant of consumption in addition to taste. Discussion: 

Results relating to preference and determinants of consumption were comparable with previous research (Rassmussen et al., 2006). Preference, attitude, knowledge experience and behaviour differed between focus groups. Further replication and a greater sample size are required to investigate the extent to which differences can be attributed to focus group disparity in age (7–9 years), cognition and/or demographics (Zeinstra et al., 2007). Conclusions: 

Public health strategies that increase positive childhood FV experiences and promote FVs as fun, enjoyable and satiating rather than just ‘healthy’, may be advantageous in promoting consumption. Further research initiatives targeted at primary school children might also consider family/peer group influences and home FV usage in relation to variety and meal patterns. References: 

Hancock, B. (1998) Trent Focus for Research and Development in Primary Health Care: Introduction to Qualitative Research. Nottingham: Trent Focus.

Lock, K., Pomerleau, J., Causer, L., Altmann, D.R. & McKee, M. (2005) The global burden of disease attributable to low consumption of fruit and vegetables. Bull. World. Health. Organ.83, 100–8.

National Health Service: Information Centre for Health and Social Care. (2009) Health Survey for England 2008 Trend Tables. Available at: [Accessed on 26 June 2010].

Rasmussen, M., Krolner, R., Klepp, K.I., Lytle, L., Brug, J., Bere, E. & Due, P. (2006) Determinants of fruit and vegetable consumption among children and adolescents: a review of the literature. Part 1: quantitative studies. Int. J. Behav. Nutr. Phys. Act.3, 22.

Zeinstra, G.G., Koelen, M.A., Kok, F.J. & de Graaf, C. (2007) Cognitive development and children's perceptions of fruit and vegetables; a qualitative study. Int. J. Behav. Nutr. Phys. Act.4, 30.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-06-01

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