Wasted food: A qualitative study of U.S. young adults’ perceptions, beliefs and behaviors

Cassandra J. Nikolaus, Sharon M. Nickols-Richardson, Brenna Ellison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


U.S. consumers, namely young adults, are one of the largest sources of preventable food waste. However, the antecedents of wasted food among young adults in the U.S. are unknown. This study aimed to explore the perceptions, beliefs and behaviors related to wasted food among 18- to 24-year-old adults. Fifty-eight individuals (63.8% female) with an average age of 20.2 y (±1.6) who lived in a residence where they had control over some food purchases (excluding co-op or other communal housing, and living with parents) participated in 75-min focus groups during spring of 2016. Thirty participants lived in residence halls at a university and the remaining 28 lived in off-campus dwellings. Focus group transcriptions were analyzed for themes by two investigators using a constant-comparative approach. Inductive thematic analyses provided insights that were broadly categorized into: 1) awareness and knowledge of wasted food, 2) factors that influence food waste behaviors, and 3) suggested interventions to reduce wasted food. Results provide evidence of heterogeneity in perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors related to wasted food based on dwelling type. Insights from the current study may be used to inform observational or intervention work focused on reducing wasted food by young adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-78
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • Consumer perceptions
  • Food waste
  • Waste behavior
  • Wasted food
  • Young adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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