Findings of a new survey of young people "point to a generation that is very interested, knowledgeable and entrepreneurial" when it comes to eating healthily.

New research commissioned by EIT Food, a European Knowledge and Innovation Community, reveals that 'Gen Z' - those between the ages of 18 to 24 - want an overhaul of how they "access, discuss and learn about healthy food".

The research involved surveying over 2,000 young people from across the UK, France, Germany, Poland and Spain.

More aware of eating healthily during pandemic

According to EIT Food, Gen Z prefers whole, organic and plant-based foods as some of their healthiest options, and 79% consider processed foods unhealthy. Ongoing attention to health amidst the Covid-19 pandemic has heightened awareness of the importance of this to young people, with 58% saying the pandemic has made them more aware of eating healthily. Meanwhile, two-thirds say that healthy food is simply "fashionable" at the moment.

Despite this keen interest and engagement with healthy eating, young people feel they "aren’t getting the support they need from educators, industry and policymakers to do so".

Three-quarters say they need clearer advice on how to eat a healthy, balanced diet, with two-thirds reporting they didn’t get enough education on how to eat healthily while at school. Having a trusted, reliable source of information was identified as being vital by many respondents, with just under two-thirds reporting they feel it can be hard to know how to eat healthily as there is so much conflicting advice.

Mental health

Young people are looking for more detailed information from brands, especially when it comes to how food is made. Nearly eight in 10 young people would like food labels to have clearer information on the way food is processed, not just the ingredients, while three-quarters think food brands need to be more transparent with consumers about their ingredients and processes.

Young people are taking things into their own hands and attempting to fill this advice gap themselves, with two-thirds reporting they regularly look at social media content (such as TikTok or Instagram) about healthy food and healthy recipe ideas.

Over half, meanwhile, say they rely on social media or their friends for advice on eating healthily. As part of this advice, young people want a narrative around healthy eating that "doesn’t risk being harmful to their mental health" – such as by focusing too much on calories alone.

In fact, just over half of young people surveyed think that including calorie counts on food labels and menus can be "detrimental" to people’s mental health.

77% said young people need better advice on the link between what they eat and their mental health, a figure that rises to 82% of young women.

Careers in food education and innovation

When considering careers in the food sector, their interest in healthy eating is leading many young people to pursue jobs in food education, innovation and equality over more traditional routes such as hospitality or farming.

Two-thirds of young people would consider taking a job in food education or food innovation, the highest ranking of all roles across the food sector.

Just under two-thirds, meanwhile, would be interested in taking a role that improved equality of food access.