The Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY), an ongoing study designed to understand the thinking and the life experiences of Generation X, just released its third quarterly report on young adults†.
The so-called Generation X report, the third of a continuing series, reveals how these young adults engage in food shopping, preparation, sharing, and making choices about the kinds of foods that they buy and consume. It also examines the attitudes of Gen X toward organic foods and genetically modified foods (GMFs).
To determine Gen X behavior, researchers analyzed data from roughly 3,000 participants in two cohorts, now 36 and 39 years of age, respectively – core members of Gen X.
Food Important to Daily Life
According to the LSAY, Gen-X adults tend to shop for food frequently – an average of 6 times per month – and cook an average of at least one meal per day, regardless of gender. Some expected habits do not seem to have changed much; married women cook much more frequently than both married and unmarried men. Unmarried men eat fast-food more frequently – 11 times a month on average versus the eight times a month unmarried women reported.
However, it seems Gen-X men are more in tune with food than we might know. They shop for food and cook more than their fathers or grandfathers. In fact, Gen-X men watch nearly as many food shows on television as Gen-X women, and they entertain at home about twice a month, just as much as married women.
Overall communication about food remains high across the board, also, with all participants talking to friends about food or cooking, cooking with others, and sharing recipes by email seven to 11 times a month.
No Strong Preference for Organic Foods
When it comes to the growing trend of organic foods, Gen X adults exhibit great understanding of what “organic” means, with 80% of participants being able to define the term. Still, only 9% of respondents indicated that they “strongly preferred” purchasing organic foods. Thirty-nine percent reported that they “sometimes” buy organic foods, regardless of availability, and the remaining half admitted they rarely, if ever, buy organic.
Of those who do purchase organic foods, Gen-X men and women who shop and cook very frequently – more than twice a day each month – are slightly more likely to purchase organics. Those holding degrees are almost twice as likely to purchase organic foods over conventional foods. And, people with higher levels of scientific literacy – defined as the ability to understand science news reports in major newspapers or on a public television science show – are twice as likely to purchase organic.
Limited Knowledge of Genetically Modified Foods
GenXers are not quite as knowledgeable when it comes to genetically modified foods (GMF). Participants were questioned to assess their understanding of GMF and calculate an Index of GMF Understanding. Nearly half of respondents scored 3 or lower (out of 10) and only 16% scored seven or higher, indicating a moderately low level of understanding.
Those who demonstrated high scientific literacy (scores of 70 or higher on the Index of Scientific Literacy) had an average score of 5.2 on the Index of GM Food Understanding, compared to an average score of 2.7 for young adults who had a lower scientific literacy score.
This disparity may result from the fact that few genetically modified foods (GMF) are labeled as such, and because the term GMF entered the American vocabulary after most of the Gen-X adults in the LSAY had finished high school and college. The majority of young adults in the LSAY have learned about GMF by reading newspaper and magazine stories, watching television, looking at online news and science sites, and talking with friends and co-workers.
And when we want to know more about GMFs, who do we trust to give us information about which foods are genetically modified, and which aren’t?
According to the study, government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are the most trusted sources, with an average score of 7.0 and 6.8 out of 10.
Participants are split in the middle about general media sources, including weekly news magazines, news channels, newspapers, and public radio. Least trusted of all are food companies and their commercials, showing that that Gen X adults, particularly those with “high scientific literacy,” understand that advertising “sells” us a biased perspective.
The study reveals that Gen-X adults are very involved in shopping, cooking and sharing food. We have increasing concerns about what goes onto and into the food we eat and how our food is being changed from the inside out, so we continue to read and talk about food. But it also shows that we can do more – cook more often, eat more healthfully, and learn more about what foods are available to us. We know what we know – what now?
The Bottom Line
Understanding Generation X’s knowledge of and relationship with food allows Gen-X adults and both previous and future generations to evaluate their own eating habits and food awareness.
For example, another recent study shows that college students – Generation Y – may be more inclined to eat fruits and vegetables when they are placed where they can be seen and easily reached. Given that the LSAY seems to indicate increased knowledge of and involvement in food activities with each successive generation, perhaps this can have a similar effect on Gen-X and its preceding generations.
In the same respect, perhaps the results of this study highlight the necessity for those of us who do not know much about organic foods and their health benefits or about GMFs to seek more information and share what we learn with our Traditionalist and Baby-Boomer parents and grandparents. And if we do know about the benefits of these foods and still aren’t making the switch, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the reasons why.
Here’s another thing to consider – is cooking an average of one meal a day at home enough? Studies have shown that cooking at home nurtures healthy eating and allows us to control unhealthful factors in food such as fat and sodium, leading to better overall choices and health.
The study gives us a lot of information about our relationship with food, and it’s up to us to that knowledge and apply it to make better-informed food – and health – decisions, for ourselves and for the other generations whose health we value.
A Primer on Generations
†For inquiring minds, GenXers were born 1965-1983. Their parents are Baby Boomers who were born 1946-1964. Their grandparents are part of the Silent Generation and were born 1927-1945. GenYers, born 1984-2002, are sometimes referred to as Millennials. Those born since 2003 are considered GenZers and not surprisingly, referred to as the Digital Generation.