Secondary students' understandings of healthy diet : a comparative study in Greece and England
This study looks at the nutritional literacy of20 Greek and 20 British students who were about to complete higher secondary education. The meaning ofa balanced diet is discussed and a model is proposed according to which a balanced diet aims at the promotion ofthe overall health ofthe individual and not only the prevention of diseases. The various social psychological theories that have been used in surveys and health interventions are reviewed. Nutritional literacy is analysed with regard to four issues: understanding of health, understanding ofa balanced diet, ability to make informed food choices and ability to describe and comment on one's own dietary habits. For the exploration of these issues, an interview was selected as the research instrument because it is resilient and can focus on each subject's views. The schedule ofthe interview was developed through three series ofpilot interviews. The data collected were analysed qualitatively, but some statistical methods were also deployed. Students defined health positively, i.e. in terms ofgood health rather than the avoidance ofill health, and referred mainly to bodily health. They spoke about habits that we must adopt rather than about habits that we must avoid. Diet and exercise were the most often reported health-promoting habits. For most ofthe students, bodily growth and good looks were the aims ofa balanced diet. Some students reported the prevention of cardiovascular diseases through diet, but most ofthem ignored the links between the type ofdiet and cancers ofthe digestive tract. Some students interpreted nutritional information in a way that reflected their own strongly held views about the nature of a balanced diet. Students' views and their ability to plan a balanced diet were characterized by high accuracy but low comprehensiveness. Finally, students were rather selective in the description oftheir own diet. Most ofthem reported that they are more or less committed to a healthy diet. However, they did not identify this commitment as a precaution against ill health.