“Good food equals good health”: a focus group study of adolescent boys’ perceptions of eating and weight

Erika Hansson, Manuela Schmidt

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Background: Disordered eating refers to unhealthy, sometimes excessive eating including so-called compensatory behaviours such as extreme dieting or voluntary vomiting. Between 24% and 30% of adolescent boys are suggested to engage in disordered eating, making it a significant public health issue. However, current instruments for assessing disordered eating among adolescents have been primarily developed and validated for girls and women, which may make for flawed assessment of boys. The aim of this study is to shed light on adolescent boys’ perceptions of eating, weight, and food intake to better understand their perspectives in service of disordered eating research.

Methods: This exploratory study was conducted from May to November 2022 using focus groups with a total of 39 adolescent boys (aged 12–19 years) who attended 7th to 12th grade in one of four schools in Southern Sweden. In addition, participants completed a form with questions on background demographics and eating habits. The transcripts of the focus group discussions were analysed using thematic analysis. 

Results: The quantitative data showed that around one third of the adolescent boys were overweight or obese. They ate at least one meal per day with the family and ate healthy food about five days per week and unhealthy food about three. Analysis of the qualitative data yielded six themes: The intertwined relationship between food and one’s health, “Don’t worry, food makes you happy,” “To be hungry or not. That is the question,” Boys DO care about appearances, Dieting and weight gain, and Disordered eating is a tricky matter. 

Conclusion: Adolescent boys appeared to have a good understanding of food and healthy eating. They also experienced body positivity and seemed to have only minor issues regarding their weight. The primarily pathological perspective used to measure disordered eating among girls seems in need of revision to adhere to boys’ thoughts and ideas regarding eating and weight.

Original languageEnglish
Article number258
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2024-Jan-22

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • Health Sciences (303)
  • Psychology (501)


  • Adolescent boys
  • Disordered eating
  • Eating
  • Focus group
  • Weight


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