NUTRITION
November 30, 2015

What Millennials Do and Don't Know About Health

Millennials have grown up with fitness apps, farm shares, and online health sites. So are they healthier? Not necessarily...

Millennials have grown up with cooking shows, fitness apps and accessories, the locavore movement, and health websites like this one. So do they have anything new to tell us about health? Yes and no, if a recent survey is to be believed. They are more health technology-savvy than older adults, but can be just as quick as the rest of us to overlook health when making choices about what to eat.

Health is one of the top three things millennials try to control in their lives, according to the the International Food Information Council's (IFIC) 2015 Food and Health Survey. Yet taste is what drives the food purchases, followed by price, then healthfulness.

Millennials are more likely than the general population to trust a health or nutrition blogger for accurate nutrition information over a registered dietitian.

Being younger, those between the ages of 18 and 34 are less concerned about calories than the rest of us. Millennials are less likely to count or limit their calories, the survey found, and are less likely than the population in general to believe that all calories have an equal effect on weight gain. When it comes to sweeteners, millennials agree with the general population that a healthy diet can include moderate amounts of sugar, and that there is a difference between the healthfulness of naturally-occurring sugars and other types of sweeteners.

But their opinions on fat and protein differ from those of the general population. A third of millennials view solid fats in a more favorable light, not as the nutrient that has been demonized since before they were born. Coconut oil is rated more favorably by millennials than sunflower, soybean, corn, or canola oil. Only 54 percent say they have cut back on their consumption of solid fats , compared to 61 percent of the general population.

About a third of millennials say they have changed their opinion about how healthy carbohydrates are, reflecting our growing awareness that fat is not the only, or even the major, enemy when it comes to overweight and obesity. Nearly 60 percent of millennials now believe carbohydrates are less healthful than they used to think, and nearly half say they are concerned about the amount of carbohydrate they consume.

“It’s encouraging to see that millennials are interested in learning more about eating well. Developing a positive relationship with food is one of the most important things young people can do for their health,” Kris Sollid, RD, director of nutrient communications for the IFIC Foundation, said in a statement.

Part of this greater awareness of food reflects their comfort with apps and technology that track their food and drink intake, and their use of online support groups or communities to pursue their health goals.

But this wider availability of health information comes at a price. Millennials are more likely than the general population to trust a health or nutrition blogger for accurate nutrition information over a registered dietitian, and they rely on the support of family and friends to help them improve their eating behaviors — not a bad thing as long as those sources actually know what they are talking about.

The full 2015 Food and Health Survey is available for download.
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