Objective: To assess adolescents' perceptions about factors influencing their food choices and eating behaviors.
Design: Data were collected in focus-group discussions.
Subjects/setting: The study population included 141 adolescents in 7th and 10th grade from 2 urban schools in St Paul, Minn, who participated in 21 focus groups.
Analysis: Data were analyzed using qualitative research methodology, specifically, the constant comparative method.
Results: Factors perceived as influencing food choices included hunger and food cravings, appeal of food, time considerations of adolescents and parents, convenience of food, food availability, parental influence on eating behaviors (including the culture or religion of the family), benefits of foods (including health), situation-specific factors, mood, body image, habit, cost, media, and vegetarian beliefs. Major barriers to eating more fruits, vegetables, and dairy products and eating fewer high-fat foods included a lack of sense of urgency about personal health in relation to other concerns, and taste preferences for other foods. Suggestions for helping adolescents eat a more healthful diet include making healthful food taste and look better, limiting the availability of unhealthful options, making healthful food more available and convenient, teaching children good eating habits at an early age, and changing social norms to make it "cool" to eat healthfully.
Applications/conclusions: The findings suggest that if programs to improve adolescent nutrition are to be effective, they need to address a broad range of factors, in particular environmental factors (e.g., the increased availability and promotion of appealing, convenient foods within homes schools, and restaurants).