The adolescence period is the stage in the life cycle in which individuals begin to develop independent decision making related to their social environment including their dietary intake. The period is fundamental in the development of longer term eating habits that may be reflected in adulthood. This study aimed to investigate the decision‐making process of adolescents and their dietary behaviour in the achievement of a balanced diet and to determine the underlying factors that may affect these choices. To meet this aim, a three phase data collection was utilized. In phase 1, a baseline questionnaire (n = 239) measured factors affecting dietary behaviour and the barriers in the achievement of a balanced diet. Phase two employed and measured respondents’ (n = 235) independent decision making by rating nineteen menu choices which reflected all options of dietary guidelines. This was analyzed through conjoint analysis. In phase three a subsample (n = 55) from the first two phases completed a food map which determined underlying reasons for food decisions and choice behaviour. Results revealed that when adolescents are given free choice they tend to follow an unbalanced diet with some diets raising concerns for their current and future health. Fifty‐seven percent of respondents displayed serious concerns in their dietary choice of which 18% were identified as requiring immediate intervention. The most noticeable factors affecting dietary choice were the desire to eat foods high in fat and carbohydrates and low in fruit and vegetable consumption. Food‐mapping indicated prior knowledge and attitudes had no effect on the choices made but that that behaviour of parents in the preparation of meals at home and peers in the selection of snack choices had the most influence on the unbalanced diet.
- adolescents, discrete choice analysis, food choice, independent decision making