An analysis of Canadian young adults’ eating behaviours towards sustainable food choices
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Human health has always been a major concern when it comes to policy design, decision-making, and planning. However, in recent years and with ideas about sustainability gaining traction, planetary health has also been gaining attention from researchers, policy makers and even businesses. There is an inevitable link between human and planetary health. Activities related to food provision and food systems in general are a major determinant of human health and environmental sustainability. The global food system requires a transformation to reduce its adverse impacts on both human and environmental health and to achieve food security. While major improvements have been made in practices related to food production, advances are required from the demand side as well. From the demand side, focusing on food consumption can be a promising approach to alleviate the negative impacts associated with food systems. In terms of sustainable eating behaviours, young adults are a critical population. They often have poor eating habits and habits gained at this stage of life can sustain overtime and become their regular eating habits. Furthermore, given the current global environmental changes, young people will experience stronger consequences from environmental challenges, such as climate change. Therefore, their habits and behaviours, including those associated with how they eat, can have major impacts on their future. This dissertation focuses on the eating habits of young adults ages 18 to 24. In this dissertation, the first study is a quantitative analysis where a Canada-wide survey was conducted among young adults to identify the main individual, environmental, and behavioral factors affecting eating behaviours and to categorize this target population into consumer segments reflecting their eating behaviours. The study found, there were six major factors influencing eating behaviours among young adults in Canada including: (1) beliefs (ethical, environmental and personal), (2) familiarity and convenience, (3) joy and experience, (4) food influencers and Sociability, (5) cultural identity, and (6) body image; the respondents were segmented into six groups based on the importance they attributed to each of the identified factors as follows: (1) the conventional consumer, (2) the concerned consumer, (3) the non-trend follower consumer, (4) the tradition-follower consumer, (5) the indifferent consumer and (6) the ‘eat what you love’ consumer; and, more than half of the population in this study have specific considerations and criteria for their food choices, which distinctly differentiates each segment. The second study is a qualitative analysis where focus groups were conducted among university students to first identify the perceived meaning of sustainable food and sustainable eating, and second, to identify the determinants of sustainable eating behaviours among university students. The study found, university students had a wide range of perceptions regarding defining the attributes of sustainable food, and the aspects of sustainable eating behaviours. In addition to the factors previously presented in the framework by Deliens et al., ‘environmental and social values and beliefs’, ‘campus food’, ‘the pandemic’ and ‘food guides and expert recommendation’ were added as determinants of sustainable eating behaviours. Among all categories, the top two themes mentioned by the participants were food literacy, and campus food (meal plan and university food outlet). Finally, identified personal and environmental factors can motivate or act as a barrier for sustainable and healthy behaviors of university students. Finally, in third study I looked at the dietary trends of young adults in Canada and how it has changed from 2004 to 2015. Using the CCHS-Nutrition data, I presented the average diet of a Canadian young adult. Additionally, I looked at the carbon footprint (CF) of the average diet and its changes over the 10-year period. Three dietary trends were identified; first, there was a shift towards the consumption of food that is heavily recommended by Canada’s Food guide; second, there was a shift towards the consumption of food that is considered to have lower CF; and third, protein intake increased and was mainly from animal-based sources for both years with almost identical ratio for animal-based to plant-based protein. The study also identified the overall CF of self-reported diets decreased only slightly in 2015. The identified trends demonstrated that although diets of Canadian young adults are moving towards the right direction (healthy and with lower environmental impact), the shift is not significant and needs major interventions, particularly regarding reducing CF. The research presented in this dissertation has contributed to knowledge and the scholarly literature regarding eating behaviours that support both human health and planetary health. This study also helps with the design and implementation of food-choice interventions underscoring the need for population-specific interventions, emphasis on knowledge translation and highlighting the link between food choices and their environmental impacts such as carbon footprint, and the need for interventions at the campus food environment level present a significant opportunity.
Cite this version of the work
Sadaf Mollaei (2023). An analysis of Canadian young adults’ eating behaviours towards sustainable food choices. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/19296