Let Them Eat Pizza: An investigation into the healthy eating patterns of primary school children using data from the NFER attitude surveys

Tom Benton, Sally Bradshaw

23 April 2012

An investigation into the healthy eating patterns of primary school children using data from the NFER attitude surveys

The NFER attitude surveys have been offered to primary and secondary schools since early 2010. Over 500 schools have taken part in the primary surveys which have involved more than 40,000 parents and 70,000 pupils in years 3 to 6. As part of the survey, parents were asked about their views of the school’s approach to healthy eating and their opinions of the school dinners. Children were asked similar questions and also about their eating patterns. This report briefly explores regional variations in the responses to these questions as well as exploring the impact of a range of influences on children’s diets.

Key Findings

  • Regional variations in healthy eating do exist for primary school pupils. Broadly speaking there appears to be a North-South divide with children in the South generally having a healthier diet.
  • Parents being more satisfied with the school canteen and dinner menu is associated with children eating less fruit and vegetables and more takeaway food. It is unclear whether this reflects lack of awareness of a healthy diet among this group of parents or a belief that the school is providing a healthy meal so they do not need to; however, it clearly shows the importance of parental attitudes.
  • There is evidence that healthy eating education could be working. Where pupils report that their school says it is important to eat healthy food there is a consistent link with the pupils eating patterns in all three of the food areas investigated. Schools have an important role to play in getting the healthy eating message across to both pupils and parents. The provision of healthy, affordable school meals and involvement in one of the many campaigns aimed to increase awareness of healthy eating and get people growing and cooking their own food, would help to achieve this.