Food and Drink Purchased Beyond the School Gate

The research was carried out to find out two things about young people aged 13 – 15 years. Firstly, what food and drink was purchased outside of the school during lunchtime. Secondly, what reasons young people had for making those purchases. We also looked at whether surroundings around schools and the type of shops and fast food places available were important.


 The study took place in seven secondary schools, with young people aged 13 – 15 years old. Students, head teachers, kitchen supervisors and local retailers all took part in the study. The study was a mixed method study, which means we used a combination of different ways to collect data, including interviews, focus groups, go-along tours, written exercises and an online questionnaire. 

The online questionnaire, also called a Purchasing Recall Questionnaire (PRQ) asked young people whether and how often they purchased food and/or drink outside of the school at lunchtime. The questionnaire also asked:

  • What food and/or drink was purchased.

  • The portion size and the cost.

  • What shops young people went to make these purchases and why.

  • Whether any price or marketing promotions were available.

  • How important promotions were when deciding what and where to purchase food and/or drink.

Some questions also asked how often they purchased or consumed food and/or drink from the school canteen. The research team used all this information to give insights to try to explain young people’s food and drink purchasing habits beyond the school gate. 


A total of 651 people (adults and young people) took part in the study. Thirteen were head teachers or kitchen supervisors and 25 were shop owners/staff. There were between five and 249 registered food businesses within the areas around the schools (800 meter radius).

Five-hundred and thirty-five young people completed the questionnaire. Seventy-seven percent of the young people who completed the questionnaire said that they purchased food and/or drink beyond the school gate during lunchtime at least twice a week. On the day of the questionnaire, 54% of the young people who completed the questionnaire purchased food and/or drink outside the school at lunchtime.

The most popular type of shops where pupils purchased their food and/or drink from were takeaways, chip shops or fast food outlets, newsagents or sweet shops, supermarkets and grocery or corner shops. When deciding which shop to go to at lunchtime, most of the young people in our study said that going where their friends go and how close the shop was to the school where important factors.


Some young people were still willing to travel further to purchase food and/or drink to avoid queues, spend time with friends or to get the food/drink that they wanted. Lastly, the service provided by the shop was also a really important factor when deciding where to go.

The most popular type of foods that the young people purchased at lunchtime on the day of the questionnaire were chips, hot or cold sandwiches, filled rolls of baguettes, sweets, chocolate and crisps or similar snack. Fruit and salad were the least popular. Regular soft drinks, like coca-cola or fanta, and energy drinks were the most popular drinks purchased. Lastly, taste and price were important when deciding what to purchase, but other promotional or marketing was not considered as important.

The full report can be found here.