Perception and knowledge of higher education students about the impact of food choice on climate change: A study in a Portuguese institution

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When the causes of climate change are addressed, the impact of food production and the respective consumption options don’t receive the deserved emphasis. According to Moskin, Plumer, Lieberman & Weingart (2019), the food sector is responsible for a quarter of the greenhouse gases generated by humanity. Based on the adaptation of a questionnaire by these authors, we sought to investigate the perception and knowledge of higher education students about the impact on climate change of different foods used in human nutrition. This exploratory study involved 212 students from four different courses of a Portuguese higher education institution; 92.5% were female and with an average age of 21.2 years old. In the curricular plans of their courses, environmental issues are included without much development and without an explicit reference to the topic under discussion.

The questionnaire consisted of three sections of questions:
1) multiple choice questions about the impact of food production of animal and vegetable origin, including sea food (fishing in the ocean and aquaculture);
2) multiple choice questions about the diet followed in personal terms and which of the opitions could have less impact on climate change;
3) open questions about the impact of animal production and the ways to make meat production and/or consumption more sustainable.

As results, 78.3% of the respondents correctly recognized the high impact of beef production, and 60.8% that of pork as having the second highest impact on the list of foods covered. However, in terms of sea food, respondents showed greater difficulties in selecting the options with the greatest impact, dispersing among the various alternatives, and wrongly chose the fishing of sardines and other small fish (39.6%). The other options were different forms of aquaculture and tuna fishing. Even so, 24.1% revealed that they are aware of the impact of salmon production in aquaculture. Most respondents said they followed an omnivorous diet without any restrictions (70.3%), while a smaller percentage said they only restrict the consumption of red meat (17.9).

Even so, 75% of the respondents acknowledge that a vegan diet clearly has a lower impact on climate change. With regard to the impact of livestock production on climate change, the most frequent justification was the release of greenhouse gases, but very few respondents mentioned them in a concrete way. To turn meat production and/or its consumption more sustainable, the ideas presented highlighted meat consumption reduction, and only a residual number of respondents mention production measures, pointing out the possibility of mitigating the problem through the animals’ food.

As a result of this study, it is considered that students have some knowledge about the relationship between food options and climate change but also a few gaps, as not opting in their day-to-day life for the solutions that they recognize have less impact on the climate. Finally, it should be noted that the present issue is more complex than described, since animal or plant production can have other negative impacts like overexploitation of water resources and water and soil pollution. Also, issues associated with animal welfare in the different forms of production were not considered.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationICERI2021 Proceedings
Subtitle of host publication14th Annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
EditorsLuis Gómez Chova, Agustín López Martínez, Ignacio Candel Torres
Place of PublicationValencia
PublisherIATED Academy
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)978-84-09-34549-6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021
Event14th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation - Online Conference
Duration: 8 Nov 20219 Nov 2021
Conference number: 14

Publication series

NameICERI Proceedings
PublisherIATED Academy
ISSN (Print)2340-1095


Conference14th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation


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