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Diet Divide: the generational attitudes towards nutrition

Diet Divide: the generational attitudes towards nutrition

Diet culture and nutrition have been hot topics for decades. With ever-changing beauty standards, constantly updated scientific advice, and increasing pressure from social media, it seems every age group has its own unique perspective on the subject. But how exactly have their attitudes been impacted by the generation they were born into?

Does opinions on diet culture vary by generation?

At Protein Works, we always puts nutrition and feeling good first, so it’s important for us to understand what affects people’s view of their own health – and promote a healthy way of looking at food and nutrition with this in mind. We thought we’d do the research for ourselves and discover exactly how each generation sees certain aspects of diet culture, food and fitness.

We surveyed a range of generations to hear from the people themselves, and the results paint a fascinating picture. In our survey, we categorised the generations by the following groups:

  • Gen Z: aged between 18-25
  • Gen Z/Millennial: aged between 25-34
  • Millennial: aged between 35-44
  • Gen X: aged between 45–54
  • GenX/Boomer: older than 55

So, how does the year in which you’re born affect your view of nutrition, health and fitness?

Younger generations are much more affected by diet culture

Younger generations are much more affected by diet culture

Nearly half of Gen Z and Millennials (43%) believe diet culture has significantly influenced their food choices today. Additionally, Millennials are the most likely to experience negative body image, with 42% reporting experiencing this — the highest of any generation in the study.

Meanwhile, nearly a third of Gen X and Baby Boomers (30%) believed diet culture has not at all affected their food choices today — a stark contrast from the younger generations.

Are these stats linked? How else do generational views on nutrition and health differ? And how could this impact their self-image? We have all the insight on all of these questions from each generation’s perspective. Read on to find out more.

The impact of diet culture.

No generation is completely free from diet culture. In fact, the survey found that 46% of people across all age groups have participated in a diet trend at some point. However, it was evident young people are more likely to do so. But why?

Our research suggests that the media plays a big part. In fact, nearly 60% of Gen Z have said that exposure to media has been the most negative contribution to their relationship with food, followed by friends (36%) and then family (34%). The tanned, toned bodies on Love Island and the toxic 90s and 00s weight loss programs were just some of the examples Gen Z gave where diet culture has negatively stuck with them. This comes as no surprise, with many of these shows highlighting idealised and sometimes unattainable body types.

However, as a result, there’s been a big pushback among younger generations to look at diets and nutrition in a much healthier way. For example, there were 6,592 more articles published about whey protein in the last 5 years alone than in the entirety of the Boomer and Gen X birth years. This new research about nutrition is extremely accessible to younger generations, hopefully helping them to look at dieting in a much more well-rounded and healthy way.

The older generations didn’t have access to the same level of education on the topic, but this also came with much less pressure from the media and the internet. The survey revealed a significant difference in how external factors have influenced Gen X and Baby Boomers, with over half of them (52%) feeling that none of the suggested options negatively affected their relationship with food. In fact, comments from family members were their highest contributing factor, affecting 22% of the group.

So, with younger generations now being exposed to media expectations from a much younger age, how has this affected how they view health, nutrition and themselves while growing up?

A third of Gen Z felt self-conscious of their body before the age of 13

A third of Gen Z felt self-conscious of their body before the age of 13

Being exposed to the media from such a young age has greatly affected the younger generation’s views on food, nutrition, and fitness. Our survey found that a third of 18-25-year-olds (33%) felt conscious of their physical appearance before they were 13 years old because of societal standards. In contrast, 42% of over 55-year-olds reported never feeling conscious of societal body standards in their lifetime.

In addition, over half of Gen Z have experienced some sort of body dysmorphia in their lifetime, compared to a mere 6% of Baby Boomers. This shows a stark contrast between diet culture’s effect on older and younger people, maybe due to the increased use of social media as you go down generations.

While fewer outside factors have impacted Gen X and Baby Boomers’ relationship with body image and food, they still participated in diet culture. But which diets did each generation choose, and what can we learn from this?
61% of 25-34 year olds have participated in a diet trend

61% of 25-34 year olds have participated in a diet trend

The study revealed that millennials were the most likely to have participated in a diet trend, followed by Gen Z. In contrast, only 26% of those over 55 have ever tried one.

The survey revealed that the types of diet Gen Z primarily partake in are all about quick results. In a generation where instant gratification is capitalised upon—just look at the short-form nature of TikTok—the attitudes to dieting are no different. Quick detoxes and juice cleanses are the most popular diet trends among the younger generation. However, they are also one of the only age groups to promote high-protein diets – a step away from the restrictive diets favoured by their parents and arguably showing a greater understanding of nutrition.

Gen X, on the other hand, favours more traditional and sometimes ‘fad’ diet methods. Their most popular diets – the Atkins diet, Slimming World and Weight Watchers – all promote the ideal of being ‘thin’ by prioritising low-carb and structured meal plans with an added element of community support. These programs become a huge part of your life, engraining this diet culture deep into this generation’s mindset—and this, in turn, affects the generations below them.

A recent TikTok trend shows Millennials and older Gen Z discussing the behaviours they observed growing up with their ‘almond moms and dads’—parents deeply entrenched in diet culture. This exposure from a young age can have a profound ripple effect on how they view what ‘healthy’ is. For example, Millennials, who are likely the children of Gen X, showed the strongest preference for low— or no-carb diets and keto. These diets primarily brand carbohydrates as ‘bad food’ and their popularity could well be a result of passed-down ideals.

To further support this, 45% of Gen Z reported that their upbringing and parental comments around food choices have negatively impacted their current relationship with food. Additionally, nearly 40% of 25-34-year-olds revealed that a parent or guardian had recommended they try a specific diet during their upbringing.

All of these factors mean that younger generations are struggling with both online pressure and pressure from previous generations of diet culture. So, how is this affecting them now?

The most popular diet trends by generationHow diet culture has affected different generations’ view of ‘healthy’

It’s clear that diet culture has affected the way different generations view their body image and nutrition. But how has this affected how different generations choose what to eat?

Older Millennials, heavily influenced by the 90s diet culture, were found to be the most concerned with calorie intake (54%), nutritional value (61%) and ‘free-from’ diets like gluten- or dairy-free as their daily diet. 61% of millennials also primarily view ‘low-fat’ foods as healthy alternatives when shopping. In contrast, Gen Z places the least emphasis on calories (30%) than any other generation, instead prioritising convenience (61%) and high-protein options. They also advocate for a broader range of diets, featuring vegan, flexitarian, paleo and keto as some of this generation’s most common daily diets.

Meanwhile, for Gen X and Baby Boomers, taste (80%) and cost (67%) are paramount, placing the least amount of importance on how the food they consume relates to their current well-being (22%) and personal circumstances (12%). These older generations also tend to moralise certain food groups, placing less emphasis on high-protein options and viewing carbs and fats more negatively. However, this perspective is changing among younger generations. For example, 0% of Gen Z see carbs as ‘very unhealthy’, reflecting a shift in mindset and a move towards a healthier opinion on what makes up a well-rounded diet.

Similarly, while nearly half of Baby Boomers consider fats unhealthy, only a third of Gen Z and Millennials share this view. Sugar intake concerns also vary, with 76% of Baby Boomers deeming it unhealthy compared to a more neutral stance from younger generations.

It’s clear that the different generations have different opinions on what is ‘healthy’, but what does this come down to?
90s diet culture is going out of fashion

Interestingly, Gen Z and Baby Boomers have the same outlook on what they consider to be healthy, according to our survey. For them, the main reason for classifying a particular food group as ‘unhealthy’ is the potential negative impacts on their health, such as contributing to diabetes or getting a disease. On the other hand, Gen X and Millennials, the ones who were exposed to the 90s, heroin-chic supermodel era in their formative years, share an outlook that ‘unhealthy’ food could cause weight gain or obesity. The fact that Gen Z is defecting from this view shows a promising change in attitudes towards diet culture, shifting away from a fear of weight gain towards a desire to be simply healthy – and we’re all for that.

Gen Z is fighting for a new way to view health

These trends all show that Gen Z is pushing back against the societal pressures that have been forced on them. While they are one of the generations most affected by diet culture, they are also the ones looking to change it—and their attitude to other aspects of health is no different.

Almost a third of Gen Z don’t drink alcohol

72% of 25-34-year-olds are now taking supplements, compared to only 51% of those over 55 years old — arguably the age demographic most in need of them. This may be due to more exposure and understanding around what the body needs, where this was previously less clear for older generations.

What’s more, almost a third of Gen Z don’t drink alcohol, and 60% of Millennials said they would reconsider their alcohol consumption for health reasons. Meanwhile, only 36% of Gen X would do the same. A lot of this comes from more understanding about the impact of alcohol on the body as well as societal and cultural reasons people are reducing their alcohol intake. In recent years more and more alcohol free alternatives have become available, including venues around the country popping up which cater solely for non drinkers.

The importance of protein has also been emphasised in recent years’ dietary advice, and the younger generations are listening. 63% of older Gen Z and younger Millennials are adding protein shakes into their diet to up their intake. This, along with weight training, is something the older generations would benefit from. However, the survey revealed the likelihood of adding protein supplements and doing weight training decreases as the generations get older, despite Gen X and Baby Boomers being the demographic that would most benefit from building and retaining muscle mass. There were over double the articles published on the subject of weight training between 1997-2012 than in the 50 years between 1946-1996, showing that the education on this form of exercise simply wasn’t there for the older generations – but hopefully, the huge increase in research will inspire people of all ages to give it a try. This is why it’s important for us to highlight why nutrition and feeling good isn’t just for those wanting certain goals in the gym.

Perhaps Gen X and Baby Boomers have a lot to learn from Gen Z, who are seemingly more aware of their physical health and are actively taking steps to stay as healthy as possible long into the future.

Gen Z is redefining fitness as more than just physical

Gen Z is increasingly seeing fitness as having not just a physical benefit, but a social one too.

You may have heard a rumour that running clubs were the new dating apps, and for Gen Z, it might be true. 28% of Gen Z are using fitness clubs and gyms as an extension of their Hinge and Tinder profiles, seeing them as a way to find a potential romantic partner. Putting romance aside, nearly 60% of older Gen Z and younger Millennials also see fitness classes, sports clubs, and gyms as an extension of their social lives. However, 80% of older Gen X and Baby Boomers disagree with them, not seeing these places as social opportunities at all.

Gen Z is also interested in looking after their mental health, with nearly a third exercising to improve this over the potential for weight loss – and the other generations seem to share this priority as well.

Is diet culture changing for the better?

Our survey found some shocking stats, especially when it came to the body image of young people and how societal pressures have affected them. But it’s looking up. Trends among Gen Z of focusing on wellness, not weight, seem to be engraining themselves in their worldview already, and this is just the start. Weight-loss can be done in a healthy and long-lasting way if you are educated on nutrition and committed to your health, and we’re happy to see more and more young people realising this. We’re here to push for healthy, well-rounded attitudes towards food, nutrition and fitness, helping every generation be as nourished as they can be and leaving the toxic diet standards of the 90s and 00s exactly where they came from: in the past.


A 1,000-person survey was conducted, and 30 questions about diet culture, nutrition, and fitness were asked. The results were then analysed.