Youth and SDGs: few know the role of food and nutrition

Youth and SDGs: few know the role of food and nutrition

June 05, 2019

Youth and SDGs: few know the role of food and nutrition

A survey commissioned to IPSOS by the BCFN Foundation reveals that half of the young people interviewed are not well informed about the Sustainable Development Goals, but they are convinced that virtuous choices depend above all on personal engagement.


What is the relationship between youth and sustainability? Young Italians seem to be supportive of the fight to reduce the impact of human behavior on climate change, but they are not sufficiently informed on the strategies that can be implemented to achieve lasting results, they are not familiar with the Sustainable Development Goals  promoted by the United Nations, and, above all, they do not know the extent to which agricultural production and the food they eat have an impact on sustainability. This is shown by a survey conducted by IPSOS on behalf of the BCFN Foundation on a sample of 800 young people between the ages of 14 and 27. The data will be presented today on the occasion of the Sustainable Development Festival promoted by ASviS (Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development), as part of the event “Health, Food and Sustainable Agriculture: Educating the adults of tomorrow”. With the participation of institutional representatives, experts in the sector, actors of the agro-food industry and civil society, the event aims to highlight the central role of education for sustainability in order to raise awareness the paradoxes of our times, such as the coexistence of hunger and obesity, and the fact that natural resources are exploited while food is wasted.  

Only one in three of the youth who are familiar with the concept of sustainability believes that the welfare of the planet also depends on what we put on our plates. It is a shame when we think about the fact that agricultural production itself is actually responsible for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions. The youth showed only one area of awareness in this sense: reducing food waste is the most important sustainable behavior to adopt (more than choosing Zero km food or reducing packaging). In fact, 50% of the youth believe this.

Acting quickly, acting with awareness

Acting quickly is more important than ever. The year 2030, which the United Nations has established as the deadline for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is ever closer, and in order to achieve these goals, it is necessary to construct a true dialogue between humans and the environment. And the youth seem to have taken this issue in hand, also thanks to the success of initiatives like Fridays For Future. In the last several months, in fact, millions of young people have demonstrated their sensitivity to the issue of sustainability, taking to the streets all over the world to forcefully reaffirm their commitment to fighting climate change. 

The aim of the study conducted by IPSOS for BCFN Foundation was to measure awareness of the SDGs among young people and investigate the level of depth with which these goals are understood and appropriated. Furthermore, the survey aimed to evaluate whether and to what degree knowledge of the Sustainable Development Goals translates into concrete behaviors and into real consciousness.

The results

The youth interviewed (52% males) were between 14 and 27 years old and mostly come from Southern Italy and the islands (38%). Given the young age (41% under 20), the majority of them still attend school (60% declare themselves as students and, in total, 39% have a middle school diploma and 24% a secondary school diploma), and 7 out of 10 live with their parents.

According to the data collected, 44% of the young people interviewed are uninformed on the issues of politics, current events, and the economy, while only 15% were attentive and constantly informed. In fact, as often occurs also among older people as well, the youth tend to relate sustainability only to environmental aspects, while the equally important issues of sustainability associated with the economy (13%), society (9%), and food and nutrition (9%) remain in the background.

The lack of information is directly correlated with the general attitude and the various everyday behaviors in relation to waste and to the choices of food sustainability: the attentive youth and informed youth tend to prefer products from sustainable agriculture, to always read food labels carefully, and to try to avoid wasting water. 

Nonetheless, also among those who follow good rules of behavior and sustainable eating with a Mediterranean diet, a holistic vision of what food sustainability means is lacking. Among 14- and 15-year-olds, less than one-third have acquired the concept of sustainability, but the percentage tends to increase in proportion to age, up to just over 50% of the oldest segment (24-27 years old). 

The percentages drop, on the other hand, when the youth are asked about their familiarity with the SDGs: 55% of the respondents had never heard about them or had never seen the official image of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. 

The role of education

SDGs and food must go hand in hand so that we can arrive at 2030 in a better condition than the current one. Our planet is burning, and the time to save is short, but many young people do not seem to be aware of this. It will take the contribution of all to educate the youth and here, clearly, a central role is played by the school system with the teachers, who can help to disseminate the awareness that food is the common thread that runs through the 17 Goals. Only 2 out of 5 young people under 27 follow sustainable diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet, perhaps because they do not clearly understand the importance this dietary model can have for our health and the health of the planet. The BCFN Foundation has launched an educational program, in protocol with the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research, to talk to teachers and their students specifically about food and sustainability. It is a multi-year commitment, because our future starts from here,” explained Anna Ruggerini, Operations Director of BCFN Foundation.

45% of the sample who are knowledgeable or at least superficially knowledgeable about the issue received their information from the school or the university, whereas only in the age 24-27 segment was the media the main source of information, in particular Internet and newspapers. 

In fact, being familiar with the Sustainable Development Goals is not a sufficient condition for the youth to feel an urgent duty to act immediately. What makes the difference, instead, is the sense of engagement in taking charge of the problem, regardless of the qualified knowledge about the issue. In fact, when the younger respondents, who attend secondary school, were asked about the implications of climate change, they tended to recognize its importance, while the university students were more critical. 

At the conclusion of the analysis, the IPSOS experts remind us that, based on the results of the survey, the fight against climate change could indeed be the starting point for raising consciousness of the Sustainable Development Goals among young people. Above all, we must focus on the implications at the personal and social level, with the help of the scholastic institutions and the families.

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