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Nutritional Health Is Most Valued Among the Young and Affluent

08/14/2015 03:30 EDT | Updated 08/14/2016 05:59 EDT
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You would have thought, "the older, the wiser." But when it comes to diet and lifestyle choices, today's young people seem to be doing better than any living generation before them. In a survey conducted by Nielsen, an international market research company, it became apparent that consumers in their 20s and early 30s have the greatest interest in the nutritional quality of their food as well as how it is produced and how it impacts the environment.

Asked if they were willing to pay higher prices for quality food like fresh, organic, and minimally processed items, nearly half of Generation Z members (younger than 20 years of age) responded "yes." By comparison, only about a quarter of Millennials (born after 1980) and Generation X'ers (born between 1965 and 1979) said so.

Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) remain outliers, as they have been known for throughout their lives. They control 70 per cent of disposable income and still drive in large measures the growing demand for more health-promoting products, including foods that are functional in preventing age-related decline, according to recent studies.

Changes in people's relationship to food are taking place not just in the developed world but globally. Concerns over food quality and sustainability of current food production affect consumer behavior also in Asian and South American countries as their citizenry becomes more affluent and better educated. And there is a growing distrust in places where information about domestic products, including foods, has often been found less than trustworthy, according to the Nielsen report.

What is changing everywhere is not only that people are becoming more interested in personal health matters but also how they define what is "healthy," researchers discover. They are not only concerned about their own wellness but also that of their children and grandchildren as well as the planet they are going to inhabit.

For this matter, it is no coincidence that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has for the first time in its history included studying the environmental impact of food production and consumption in its recommendations.

So, can we hope that in the face of our pandemic obesity crisis, with its barrage of related diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, people will finally alter their diet and lifestyle preferences? Perhaps not yet to the extent that is necessary. But it is already evident that food producers and manufacturers pay close attention to these fledgling trends, as cautious as their responses may seem at this point.

And this is not limited to big companies that dominate the market today. Almost daily new startups in the food and food service industry emerge, building their business model on what they perceive as consumer demands they must meet to survive. Those, of course, will vary time and again. But they all should be embraced as long as they lead in the right direction.

Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

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