An exploratory investigation of food choice behavior of teenagers with and without food allergies

Isolde Sommer, Heather MacKenzie, Carina Venter, Tara Dean

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Background - Understanding food choice behavior in adolescence is important because many core eating habits may be tracked into adulthood. The food choices of at least 2.3% of teenagers living in the United Kingdom are determined by food allergies. However, the effect of food allergies on eating habits in teenagers has not yet been studied.

Objective - To provide an understanding of how teenagers with food allergies make food choice decisions and how these differ from those of non–food-allergic teenagers.

Methods - One focus group discussion with non–food-allergic teenagers (n = 11) and 14 semistructured interviewers (7 with food-allergic and 7 with non–food-allergic teenagers) were performed (age range, 12-18 years). The focus group discussion and interviews were audiorecorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using thematic content analysis.

Results - Teenagers from both groups (food-allergic and non–food-allergic) named sensory characteristics of foods as the main reason for choosing them. Some food-allergic teenagers downplayed their allergy and frequently engaged in risk-taking behavior in terms of their food choices. However, they reported difficulties in trying new foods, especially when away from home. Parental control was experienced as protective by those with food allergies, whereas non–food-allergic teenagers felt the opposite. Most teenagers, including food-allergic ones, expressed the wish to eat similar foods to their friends. Other themes did not vary between the 2 groups.

Conclusion - Food-allergic teenagers strive to be able to make similar food choices to their friends, although differences to non–food-allergic teenagers exist. It is important to address these differences to improve their dietary management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)446-452
JournalAnnals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
Issue number5
Early online date19 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - May 2014


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