Survey: Young adults face higher rates of food insecurity

Gen Z adults were nearly twice as likely to have experienced food insecurity in the first half of 2022 than other adults, according to a report by Purdue University’s Center for Food Demand Analysis and Sustainability.  Among these adults — born after 1996, or 18 to about 26 years old —  30 percent experienced food insecurity, according to the analysis, which is based on monthly surveys of 1200 adults.

The report, released last week, said about 17 to 19 percent of millennials and Gen X-ers reported facing food insecurity during the same time compared with only 7 percent of people born before 1965 (called Boomers+ in the survey).

Overall, the number of people reporting food insecurity in these surveys has remained between 14 and 16 percent since January. Based on these reports, the authors estimated the national rate of food insecurity to be 16 percent.

Gen Z households were most likely to report getting groceries from a food pantry or other charity, with three in 10 relying on the charitable food system, against just 8 percent of Boomer+ households.

“Those who are younger tend to have lower incomes, so the results aren’t necessarily surprising, but we need to pay attention to it. Food inflation is outpacing salary growth, and it hits those with the lowest incomes the hardest,” said Jayson Lusk, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University and director of the center, in a press release.

The report also found that food ate up a large and growing chunk of lower-income households’ budgets in June; those making less than $50,000 were spending a greater share of their income on food in June compared to earlier months.

Food spending was up about 15 percent overall since January; in June, respondents reported spending $119 per week on food eaten at home and another $67 per week on restaurants and takeout.

Zoomers and Millennials also reported being more conscious consumers compared to older generations; they were more likely to report choosing cage free eggs, wild-caught fish over farm raised, plant based proteins and organic foods than their older counterparts, and also more likely to report that they were working to reduce food waste at home.

The survey also asked respondents about the attributes they prioritize when shopping for food — all generations highly valued affordability, taste and nutrition. Gen Z and Millennials ranked environmental impact and social responsibility as nearly twice as important as Boomers+ did.

Respondents also scored the trustworthiness of sources of information on food such as federal agencies, media, doctors and certain food companies. Primary care physicians were rated the most trustworthy by all age groups, followed by the FDA, though trust had dropped by 20 percent in the last month, the report noted. Overall, McDonald’s was ranked as the least trustworthy source of information and both the New York Times and CNN were also considered untrustworthy.

The survey also gauged respondents’ support for a range of food policies. Boosting funding for agricultural research in order to develop crops more resistant to heat, drought and flooding had the most support with more than three-quarters of each group ranking it favorably. Increasing conservation program funding, expanding SNAP benefits, banning food advertising to kids, regulating CAFOS, imposing a carbon tax on food producers, and extending citizenship for undocumented farmworkers were all supported by more than half of all respondents. Support for fast food zoning laws and sugar-sweetened beverage taxes was weaker.

And, while 70 percent of respondents said they were very or somewhat worried about how the Russia-Ukraine war might affect global food supplies, just a quarter said resolving the war should be a top U.S priority for ensuring global food security. Instead, they favored increasing U.S. agricultural production and  increasing supply chain resilience.