Teenagers are a potentially vulnerable group in terms of diet and nutrition as they become increasingly independent and leave home for the first time. Many find budgeting a challenge, others have minimal cooking skills. Young people are at greater risk of vitamin D and iron deficiency and low intakes of calcium, while consumption of saturated fat, sugar and salt is too high.
The Survival Guide to Food was designed to provide information and advice on nutrition, cooking skills, budgeting and food safety that would be useful to students who are about to leave home for the first time. The guide, launched in September 2009, was created as a teaching resource for life skills or enrichment classes and was available free to any school in Northern Ireland with sixth form leavers.
The FSA in NI commissioned an extensive evaluation in 2011. The prime objective was to evaluate, from the perspectives of students and teachers, the Survival Guide to Food and the marketing campaign promoting the guide. In the absence of baseline data, the evaluation was not designed to identify objective measures of change over time. Instead, the perceived impact of the guide was assessed by means of feedback from students and teachers. Of interest were the impacts of the Guide and marketing approach on engagement with the issues, knowledge, attitudes and behaviour towards food.
The evaluation set out to identify which aspects of the guide were most useful, whether the design and content were age appropriate and how the guide was used in classroom settings. A further strand of the study was to ascertain how effective and appropriate the marketing campaign was.
The study consisted of five phases of data collection using a combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques:
- a scoping stage
- telephone interviews with teachers
- a survey of students
- focus groups with students still in school
- telephone and face-to-face interviews plus an online bulletin board with those who had received the guide but since graduated from sixth form
Evaluation fieldwork was conducted between January and April 2012.
- Overall, feedback on the guide was very positive in relation to layout, colour graphics, humour, recipes and information being pitched at the right level
- Various approaches were taken by teachers to disseminate and distribute the guide including sixth form tutorials and survival cookery classes
- Greater use of the guide was evident in schools offering cookery as an enrichment topic. The focus in these instances was on practical cooking skills and using the recipes
- The hardback A5 format was preferred; online printout would not set the guide apart from other student handouts and, for some schools, printing and photocopying costs would preclude use of a downloadable version
- The various marketing methods had limited impact
- There was some evidence of behaviour change as reported by students in the survey and during focus groups, for example, reading food labels and storage instructions more carefully; cutting down on salt, taking note of iron messages, etc.
Suggestions for improvements (from teachers and students)
- a common theme among students was that the guide was ‘too long’
- additional content was suggested: sections on exercise, alcohol consumption, food and mental health, and making take-aways more healthy
- more coverage in schools would help reinforce the messages
- promotion of the guide at universities
- students commonly suggested Facebook as the best medium for communication and promotion. It was suggested Facebook or twitter could be used to provide newsfeed along the lines of ‘a tip a week’ – these might include a quick recipe (perhaps with a link), a budgeting tip, presentation of facts