Let’s imagine this scenario: It’s almost lunchtime, and you start feeling hungry. You think to yourself: “What if today I make a delicious and healthy salad?”. With the picture of the salad in your mind, you get your money and walk straight to the market to get the ingredients you need. Sounds like an easy plan... right?
When you enter the market, you see the freshest lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and immediately take them to pay. While you are excited about your healthy food selection, the cashier takes your vegetables and, with a friendly voice, tells you the price. Then, the unexpected happens. Suddenly, your lunch plan fades away because you don’t have that much money in your pocket. Quickly, you leave behind the salad plan and choose something cheap (and maybe unhealthy) to satiate your hunger qualms.
Yes, we know, it’s not the story that you expected. But what if we tell you that this not only happens in an imaginary scenario, this... is what most young people experience every day.
To address this important challenge for youth, UNICEF developed over 60 food systems dialogues in 18 countries and launched the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) Poll to know the opinions of school-age children and adolescents on food systems and food environments. After its implementation in May 2021, the U-Report poll reached nearly 23,000 U-Reporters across 23 countries, who also shared their perspectives about how food systems can be transformed to ensure nutritious, safe, affordable, and sustainable diets for all.
This is what they shared:
• Affordability and availability of nutritious foods is the key barrier to healthy eating. 6 out of 10 participants identified that cost or expense is the top barrier to get healthy food.
• From the findings, children and young people reported that cost (32%), food safety (32%), and taste (25%) are the top influences on their food decisions. They also reported impacts on climate change as an influencing factor (5%).
• In children and adolescents, peers (2%) and advice or endorsement by celebrities/influencers (1%) are among the least influences in food decisions.
• 8 out of 10 U-Reporters consider they eat healthy and have access to healthy food at home. On the opposite, 4 out of 10 eat unhealthy foods outside the home environment when they hang out with friends.
• Access to healthy food remains a challenge for children and adolescents. 4 out of 10 of U-Reporters stated they eat healthy and have access to healthy food. However, another 4 out of 10 also shared they wanted to eat healthy but don't have access to healthy foods.
Young people also shared what they would change about the food system around them. Here are some of their brilliant ideas.
In the food systems dialogues, young people also urged governments and world leaders to:
1. Engage them in food systems transformation.
2. Enforce policies to safeguard children from marketing of unhealthy food practices, regulate food prices and incentivize local production and producers of nutritious, safe, and sustainable foods, and tax companies that produce, package, or distribute food that harms the environment.
3. Invest in social safety-net programmes– food, vouchers, or cash – that ensure access to nutritious foods for children living in poverty.
The findings from the U-Report poll and the dialogues are included in the "Fix my Food: Children's views on transforming food systems" report, a joint effort between Western Sydney University, UNICEF, and U-Report Global. To know more, click here.
Now that you know what young people think about food systems, we encourage you to talk more about this important topic for youth and drive change by inviting decision-makers to take urgent actions to enable food systems and overcome the barriers that stop children and young people from accessing healthy food. Be the change in promoting nutritious, safe, affordable, and sustainable diets for all.
Remember, your food matters, #YourVoiceMatters.