Research reveals Gen Zs want healthy snacks that prioritise their mental health instead of calories

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

55% of Gen Zers surveyed think including calorie counts on food labels and menus can be detrimental to mental health. Pic: GettyImages/AzmanJaka
55% of Gen Zers surveyed think including calorie counts on food labels and menus can be detrimental to mental health. Pic: GettyImages/AzmanJaka

Related tags EIT Food Gen Z Research healthy snacking Mental health

Research commissioned by EIT Food has found that young Europeans want an overhaul of how they access, discuss and learn about healthy food.

Over 50% of the 2,000 18-24-year-old Europeans surveyed said they track their food in some way, though this figure differentiates starkly between countries, rising to 65% of Germans compared to  38% of French.

While most are focused on counting calories, Gen Zers – with the majority being women – are actively seeking out healthy snacks that prioritise their mental health.

Mental health

In fact, 55% of those surveyed think that including calorie counts on food labels and menus can be detrimental to mental health – a figure that rises to 62% in the UK, 60% in France and 61% in Germany.

Instead, young people want a better narrative around healthy eating, which the majority believe is a major failing today.

“Young people are fundamental for the transformation towards healthy and sustainable food systems,”​ said Dr Andy Zynga, CEO of EIT Food.

“Yet our research clearly shows that they are being let down. Across Europe, 18-24 year olds find healthy food more expensive, harder to find on the go, and lacking the information and advice they need to make informed nutritional decisions.”

The research – conducted by Opinium amongst Gen Zers in France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the UK in June and July 2021 – is aligned to the launch of the ‘Our Food, Our Food System’ campaign by EIT Food to help young people have their say on the future of food. The initiative will recruit 10 FutureFoodMakers to spearhead a call for radical makeover by the food sector towards easier access to healthy, sustainable and affordable food.

Lack of support

According to the results, young people are increasingly turning to social media or friends for healthy eating tip as they believe they aren’t getting the support they need from educators, industry and policy makers.

Two-thirds (67%) said they regularly log onto platforms like TikTok or Instagram for healthy food and recipe ideas, while 52% said they rely on their friends for advice.

Having a trusted, reliable source of information is vital, with 61% reporting there is so much conflicting advice today. Two-thirds reported they didn’t get enough education on the subject while at school.

Thanks to the pandemic, attention on health is predominant, with 58% of those surveyed saying it has made them more aware of eating healthily, with whole, organic and plant-based options increasingly being in demand.

However, 67% said healthy food is simply fashionable at the moment. What’s more, young people don’t necessarily see low calorie foods as automatically healthy: just 54% do, while 34% of them consider them to be unhealthy.

This group of health-savvy consumers would rather have long-term benefit of greater transparency from brands about their ingredients and processes, especially on the way the whole product is processed and not just the ingredients.

Access and affordability

When it comes to encouraging young people to snack healthily, discounted or subsidised food ranked highest amongst respondents, which is little surprise given that two-thirds believe that healthy food is more expensive than the less healthy alternatives.

Having access is also key for a third of respondents, whether home delivered through services like  Uber Eats or Deliveroo, or at school, college and university. Seven in 10 reported to finding it difficult to eat healthily while on-the-go.

Careers in food innovation

The interest in healthy eating is leading many young people to pursue jobs in food education (66%), food innovation (64%) or those that improve equality to food access (61%) over the more traditional jobs in hospitality or farming.

This makes the launch of EIT Food’s search for 10 young FutureFoodMakers to spearhead a call for radical change very timeous. In fact, 2021 is certainly a landmark year for the food industry, with the first ever United Nations Summit dedicated to food systems.

“The voice and asks of this young and dynamic food generation need to be heard by everyone across the food sector, and they need to be involved and empowered in shaping what comes next,” ​added Dr Zynga.

“That’s why we are launching our campaign ‘Our Food, Our Food System’, to give our young people the voice they deserve and help everyone in the food systems to understand their needs.”

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