Australian children's perceptions of discretionary foods
Abstract Energy-dense nutrient poor foods and drinks, often referred to as discretionary choices, can contribute a significant amount of energy, fat, sodium and sugar to the diet if consumed in large quantities. Currently many Australian children are consuming a diet that is characterised by large quantities of discretionary items. We undertook a qualitative study to gain a descriptive account of preadolescent children's attitudes and perceptions towards health and nutrition. A series of 6 focus groups and 14 individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with thirty-eight children aged 11–12 years, across three state government schools in a socially disadvantaged region of metropolitan South Australia. The naturalistic manner of qualitative inquiry led to several unintended yet highly pertinent emergent themes, including children's perceptions and practices surrounding discretionary food consumption. Our results indicate that while Australian guidelines recommend that discretionary foods are consumed ‘only sometimes and in small amounts’, children generally held a different belief with respect to what constituted ‘sometimes’. Many children identified that discretionary foods should be consumed in moderation to maintain a balanced diet, yet reported consuming these foods frequently. Self-reported discretionary food consumption was grounded in socially constructed experiences valued by the children, who made situational attributions to foods and legitimised discretionary food consumption in certain contexts, for example during the weekend. Overall, there is variability between children's opinions about the acceptable frequency of consumption of discretionary foods compared with national guidelines.
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