Jessai Flores, Illustrations Editor

The Yale Program for Climate Change Communication, or YPCCC, released a new study that segments the American population’s consumption of plant-based foods by motivation. 

On Feb. 22, researchers at YPCCC published a study entitled “PLANTS: A scalable survey tool for identifying groups willing to adopt plant-based diets.” Led by study author Karine Lacroix, the research draws on data from a past YPCCC study, “Climate Change and the American Diet,” to identify three genres of Americans’ attitudes toward plant foods. The largest group is “Health-conscious” with 42 percent of the American population, followed by “Motivated” at 32 percent and Uninterested at 22 percent. The study also includes a survey tool using the acronym PLANTS — Plant-based diet Segmentation — that other researchers can use to identify members of each group. 

“I’d say that the inspiration was primarily impact-driven,” Lacroix said. “Diet is a high impact behavior when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. But also, developing a tool that is scalable increases the potential impact of the study. So the goal was to identify the different segments and to create a tool that could be incorporated into future research.”

The most inclined to eat plant-based food are those identified as “Motivated,” who are concerned with not only the health consequences of their diet but also environmental and ethical issues surrounding the question of diet. Meanwhile, “Health-conscious” eaters are less inclined to consume plant-based foods and do so for the health benefits of doing so. The least willing group to consume plant-based foods are the “Uninterested,” who are the likeliest segment to be categorized as “Dismissive” of global warming, a categorization drawing from the YPCCC’s Global Warming’s Six Americas study.

Perceptions on global warming vary across each group. In the Motivated group, 50 percent of participants were categorized as “Alarmed” about global warming while only 18 percent and eight percent of the Health-conscious and uninterested groups, respectively, expressed the same opinion. Meanwhile, the Motivated group had the least number of participants categorized as “Dismissive” of global warming, with only four percent. On the other hand, 34 percent of the Uninterested group are “Dismissive.” 

“To me, it stands out that more women than men in the U.S. are interested and motivated to increase plants in their diet,” YPCCC Associate Director Lisa Fernandez said. “This is important because women tend to be the decision-makers when it comes to what their families eat.”

Over half of the Motivated group is female at 58 percent of respondents and over half of the Uninterested group is male at 62 percent of respondents. Respondents in the Health-conscious group are evenly balanced in gender ratio. Lacroix referred the News to a Climate Note published by YPCCC that describes how women are more likely to shift to a plant-based diet.

The final portion of the report explains the survey tool used to identify each group and invites researchers to identify members of each group among their research populations. 

“This tool can be integrated into experiments to help identify what messages work best for which audience,” Lacroix wrote to the News. “For example, do messages that highlight the climate benefits of plant-rich diets work better for the Motivated than they do for the Health-conscious? The impact of different messages could be tested in the lab setting or in the field (e.g., cafeterias).”

Lacroix has noted that several organizations “working in the area of plant-rich diets” have reached out to use the tool so far. She hopes researchers can “test different messages”’ or “get to know their audiences better.” Members of the community can find what group they fall into by using an anonymous Qualtrics survey

The research draws on funding from the Earth Day Network’s Foodprints for the Future campaign, an educational initiative about the environmental impact of food consumption. 

“[T]his project was developed to create a tool to help researchers and practitioners understand people’s willingness to change their diets to include more plant-based foods,” co-author Matthew Goldberg wrote to the News. “Our hope is that it can help craft messaging strategies tailored to the specific audience segments.”

According to a Bloomberg report, the size of the plant-based food market is set to exceed $162 billion within the next decade. 

Hamera Shabbir covers golf and fencing for the Sports desk and the School of the Environment for the Science and Technology desk. Originally from California's Central Valley, she is a sophomore in Branford College majoring in Environmental Studies.