Food provision, cUlture and Environment in secondary schooLs (FUEL) study


Close up of apples


The FUEL study was an evaluation of the national School Food Standards and related national policy in secondary schools in the West Midlands area, funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

We asked secondary schools across the Midlands to be involved in the study. We asked pupils from years 7, 9 and 10, key school staff and governors to take part.

The study started in March 2019 and finished in October 2022.

The FUEL study was an evaluation of the national School Food Standards and related national policy in secondary schools in the West Midlands area, funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

Research group leads

Dr Miranda Pallan

Miranda PallanInstitute of Applied Health Research

Senior Lecturer in Public Health 

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Professor Peymane Adab 

Peymane Adab

Institute of Applied Health Research

Professor of Chronic Disease Epidemiology and Public Health

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Meet the team

Research team

Staff from the University of Birmingham

Aims of the project

The aim of the FUEL study is to compare secondary schools legally required to meet the School Food Standards with those that are not legally required to meet the standards. We will explore what food is provided and how healthy eating is supported in these two groups of schools. 

We also aim to assess the dietary intake and dental health of pupils, and compare these across the two groups of schools. 

In addition we will capture the variation in how the School Food Standards and supporting school food policy are implemented, and explore whether the level of implementation and support for healthy eating is associated with pupils’ dietary intake and dental health. 

Why is this research needed?

  • Nearly a third of adolescents have excess weight.
  • Almost half of 15 year olds have dental caries.
  • Excess sugar consumption is a major contributor to increased energy intake, obesity, and poor dental health. 
  • Adolescents aged 11-18 years in the UK consume three times the recommended amount of their total energy intake from free sugars. 

What are the School Food Standards?

  • Nutritional standards for school meals were first set in 1941, with the aim of improving the quality of childrens’ diets.
  • There were no school food standards from 1980 to 2001.
  • Food-based standards were re-introduced to schools in 2001 in response to concerns about children’s diets and findings that school lunches lacked key micronutrients and were too high in fat and sugar. 
  • In 2006, new national School Food Standards that were both nutrient- and food-based were introduced in England following a national School Meals Review. 
  • In 2013, following a further Government commissioned independent review, a School Food Plan (SFP) was published with recommendations for Government, schools and head teachers to further support healthy eating. These included a recommendation to revise the School Food Standards to make them less onerous and cheaper for school food providers to implement. 
  • These revised standards came into force in January 2015 and are a legal requirement for most state schools. However, all academies and free schools set up between 2010 and 2014 are exempt from the legal obligation to meet the standards.  
  • This gives an opportunity to examine the influence of a legal requirement to meet school food standards by comparing schools which are, versus those which are not required by law to meet them. 

The School Food Plan website:

Intake24 website:

What is involved?

We will recruit 44 secondary schools in the West Midlands to take part (22 that are required to adhere and 22 that do not have to adhere to the standards). 

We will compare the provision, sale and consumption of foods in schools and how schools implement the School Food Standards and the recommendations set out in the School Food Plan. 

This will be done through a variety of data collection methods.

  1. Schools

Schools taking part in the FUEL study will be asked to complete a number of tasks:

  • Share some key data and documents with the researchers about school food
  • Identify staff and governors to complete a questionnaire about school food
  • Work with the research team to support the consent process for pupils and parents
  • Arrange for two timetabled classroom sessions in which pupils will complete an online questionnaire
  • Distribute information and questionnaires to parents of pupils invited to take part
  • Allow researchers to visit the school to undertake an observation of school food

2.  Pupils

Children who take part in the FUEL study will be asked to complete a questionnaire requesting information on their general health and well-being and dental health, what they have eaten in the past 24 hours, as well as their ethnicity, age, sex and home postcode.

3.  Parents

Parents of children taking part will be asked to fill in a questionnaire about their views on the school food provision at their child’s school and requesting information on their sex and age group.

4.  School staff and governors

School governors and key staff members, including those in management, teaching and catering roles will be asked to complete a questionnaire exploring their views on school food provision, the eating environment, the food curriculum and implementation of the national School Food Standards and the related School Food Plan in their school.

Parent representatives information

We all want children to eat well – it’s essential to their concentration, ability to learn and well-being. We are a team of researchers carrying out research to find out more about the food that is served in secondary schools and how this influences the food that pupils choose to eat. We are looking for parents to join an advisory group. This advisory group will help us think about how we can best use the findings of our research to shape national school food policy so that it supports young people in secondary schools to eat more healthily.

This will involve:

  • Attending 5 early online meetings from July 2022 – October 2023 (early evening)
  • Discussing topics with other parents such as how we can best engage parents and how to share the findings of our research with others

All parent advisors will receive:

  • Payment at a rate of £25 per hour for attendance at meetings and any other preparation tasks
  • Reimbursement of expenses paid at £5 for online meetings. Any additional childcare costs associated with attending online meetings will also be reimbursed
  • A short training session, incorporated into the first meeting


  • The parent/carer of a secondary school-aged child
  • Access to equipment for online meetings (laptop, PC, smart phone or tablet)

If you are interested in being a parent representative on this exciting study, please contact Marie Murphy or complete the following Google Form to register your interest.

Please feel free to forward this information on to any friends with secondary school-aged children you think may be interested. 

FUEL study findings

FUEL School Food Study Findings

Watch the full version of our video sharing some of the key findings from the FUEL Study.

FUEL Infographic full version (accessible): [Docx, 16.3KB]

FUEL Infographic full version: [PDF, 3.7MB]

FUEL Infographic short version (accessible) : [Docx, 20.2KB]

FUEL Infographic short version: [PDF, 748KB]



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