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P98 Student Perceptions of Food and Climate Change

      Background

      Many recent reports recommend shifting from a meat-centric diet to a plant-based diet to support sustainability and carbon emission goals. More research is needed to assess whether college students’ concerns regarding climate change influence their food selection and whether they have the knowledge and willingness to make dietary changes to reduce their carbon footprint.

      Objective

      To determine the attitudes and perceptions of food and climate change of college freshmen attending a military college and to examine ways they are willing to change their diet.

      Study Design, Setting, Participants

      College freshmen (99 males, 19 females; ages 18-21) attending a military school were selected from a required health class to participate in a 60-item questionnaire, before any topics regarding nutrition were taught. Data collected included eating habits, willingness to adopt various diets, concerns regarding food availability, and knowledge/perceptions of climate change.

      Measurable Outcome/Analysis

      Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics.

      Results

      Many students surveyed (83%) feel they have an average or better understanding of climate change; however, only 44% agreed that the selection/consumption of certain foods contribute to climate change. Over half the students surveyed were concerned how climate change will impact them. A majority of those surveyed consume beef either daily (36%) or weekly (57%). The primary reason for eating beef was to meet protein requirements and most respondents (73%) felt adopting a plant-based diet would not sufficiently meet those needs. Despite cattle having a large carbon footprint, respondents want to be able to consume beef (42%) and dairy (48%) whenever they want, without restrictions. Survey respondents are more willing to replace beef with poultry, fish, or game rather than adopt a vegan, vegetarian, or partially plant-based diet.

      Conclusions

      This population of students may benefit from educational outreach that provides them with a better understanding of how food selection can impact climate change, and how protein requirements can be met even when meat is partially or fully replaced with various plant sources.
      Funding None.

      Appendix. Supplementary data