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Early School Leavers and Nutrition

Research Staff

Dr. Michelle Share (Principal Investigator)

Marita Hennessy (Research Assistant)


There is much emphasis on nutrition education and nutrition health promotion interventions for young people in formal school settings, and substantial efforts have been made by researchers in assessing the effectiveness of these. For those who leave school early there is limited information about their food-related behaviours, attitudes and knowledge, and about interventions that can successfully promote healthy eating and physical activity among what are deemed to be a vulnerable group. We can, however, infer from the results of school leaver surveys and other data that early school leavers do not differ from other marginalised groups at risk of adverse health outcomes.

US evidence shows that young adults outside formal education have higher rates of overweight, smoking and consumption of higher fat/lower fibre foods, compared with similarly-aged college students/graduates. In Australia, greater levels of obesity have been reported in children of women who left school early. Furthermore, women with low educational attainment have lower fruit/vegetable consumption and lower food involvement and perceive themselves to have little control over their food choices.

As much mainstream nutrition education is beyond the reach of young people who experience social and economic marginalisation it is important to develop a clear understanding of the capacity of ESL settings to address nutrition health promotion as well as the relevance of food and health issues for early school leavers themselves.

Such issues will be addressed in this mixed methods interdisciplinary research study that will examine the nutrition education needs of young people in early school leaver (ESL) settings on the island of Ireland.

The study objectives are to:

  1. provide an overview of the key structures/networks for accessing early school leavers in NI and ROI
  2. identify relevant key existing health promotion activities and gaps in health promoting activities that focus on healthy eating and active lifestyles that target early school-leavers
  3. to identify potential healthy eating and physical activity related programmes that are appropriate and acceptable to early school leavers in NI and ROI that could be implemented by safefood in the out of school setting.

These objectives will be addressed using secondary documentary sources, quantitative surveys, and qualitative interviews and focus groups. The study will involve participants from ROI and NI that represent early school leaver education providers and young people in a range of early school leaver settings.

The project results will inform safefood’s future work in Early School Leaver settings.

Funded by

The study is funded by safefood, The Food Safety Promotion Board.

Last updated 13 January 2012 by The Children′s Research Centre (Email).