Environmental and Climate Impact Perceptions in University Students: Sustainability Motivations and Perceptions Correspond with Lower Red Meat Intake

Published:September 20, 2022DOI:



      Red meat production is a leading contributor to food-related greenhouse gas emissions. Decreasing red meat intake can mitigate climate change and lower risk of diet-related diseases.


      The goal of this study is to evaluate university students’ perceptions of climate-friendly behaviors and to assess how these perceptions are associated with the frequency of red meat intake.


      Cross-sectional survey


      A large, public California university and a large, public Michigan university


      Undergraduate students from a California university (n = 721) and a Michigan university (n = 568)

      Main Outcome Measures

      Perceptions of climate-friendly behaviors and frequency of red meat intake

      Statistical Analysis

      Differences in perceptions by student characteristics were compared using t-tests and one-way analysis of variance. Associations between perceptions of climate-friendly behaviors and red meat intake frequency were examined using generalized linear models, adjusted for sociodemographic covariates.


      Across both universities, students rated reducing meat intake as less effective than other climate change mitigation behaviors such as recycling and using less plastic. However, students who reported (1) making food and beverage choices that “are good for the environment,” (2) making food and beverage choices that “reduce climate change impact,” or (3) agreeing that “eating less meat is an effective way to combat climate change” reported 10% to 25% lower frequency of red meat intake for each point higher on the agreement scale. In contrast, making food and beverage choices motivated by health was not associated with frequency of red meat intake.


      Sustainability motivations and perceptions of meat’s climate impact were associated with lower frequency of red meat intake, despite the overall moderate rating of eating less meat as an effective climate change mitigator. This research lends support to behavioral interventions, public education campaigns, and policies aiming to reinforce sustainable dietary patterns in young adults.


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      M. J. Slotnick is a research associate, Department of Nutritional Sciences, The University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI.


      J. Falbe is an associate professor of nutrition and human development, Department of Human Ecology, University of California Davis, Davis, CA.


      J. F. W. Cohen is an associate professor, Department of Nutrition and Public Health, Merrimack College, North Andover, MA, and an adjunct associate professor, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA.


      Ashley N. Gearhardt is an associate professor, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.


      J. A. Wolfson is an assistant professor, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, and USA Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.


      C. W. Leung is an assistant professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences, The University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI.