A qualitative study of independent fast food vendors near secondary schools in disadvantaged Scottish neighbourhoods

Michelle Estrade, Smita Dick, Fiona Crawford, Ruth Jepson, Anne Ellaway, Geraldine McNeill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Preventing and reducing childhood and adolescent obesity is a growing priority in many countries. Recent UK data suggest that children in more deprived areas have higher rates of obesity and poorer diet quality than those in less deprived areas. As adolescents spend a large proportion of time in school, interventions to improve the food environment in and around schools are being considered. Nutrient standards for school meals are mandatory in the UK, but many secondary pupils purchase foods outside schools at break or lunchtime that may not meet these standards.

METHODS: Qualitative interviews were conducted with fast food shop managers to explore barriers to offering healthier menu options. Recruitment targeted independently-owned shops near secondary schools (pupils aged c.12-17) in low-income areas of three Scottish cities. Ten interviews were completed, recorded, and transcribed for analysis. An inductive qualitative approach was used to analyse the data in NVivo 10.

RESULTS: Five themes emerged from the data: pride in what is sold; individual autonomy and responsibility; customer demand; profit margin; and neighbourhood context. Interviewees consistently expressed pride in the foods they sold, most of which were homemade. They felt that healthy eating and general wellbeing are the responsibility of the individual and that offering what customers want to eat, not necessarily what they should eat, was the only way to stay in business. Most vendors felt they were struggling to maintain a profit, and that many aspects of the low-income neighbourhood context would make change difficult or impossible.

CONCLUSIONS: Independent food shops in low-income areas face barriers to offering healthy food choices, and interventions and policies that target the food environment around schools should take the neighbourhood context into consideration.

Original languageEnglish
Article number793
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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