Generation Z - a term that roughly covers people aged between 11 and 26 – is growing up in a mediatised age of increased stress. According to the Pew Research Centre, some 70% of teens across all gender, races and family-income levels say that anxiety and depression are significant problems among their peers.
“The number one reason for this is increased screen time,” explains Davis, who is currently a market research project manager for Nutrition Business Advisers, and helps supplement brands to answer key strategic questions. “This is affecting sleep and creating brain disturbances, while the nature of social media itself is creating anxiety and FOMO [fear of missing out].
“Psychologically, smartphones are really interfering with our ability to think linearly and stay on task. Our brains cannot resist the constant notifications and constant opportunities for distractions, and this is likely the root cause of many ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] diagnoses.”
Davis also notes that social media use dramatically increased during the pandemic. Many experts believe that the subsequent lockdowns and social restrictions disproportionately affected younger people. Schools and universities were badly disrupted, and normal face-to-face socialising was significantly curtailed.
On top of this, social media can often feed into the narrative that everything is going wrong in the world. When news makes its way to social media, the most sinister and dramatic version of it gets the most views. All this, Davis believes, is driving depression diagnoses within this age group.
Addressing anxiety and stress
In her work, Davis has noticed that mood, anxiety, and stress-focused products targeting this age group represent a huge untapped opportunity. “I’m Gen Z myself, and I know that my mental health comes down to my wellness routines,” she says. “I advocate for changes in lifestyle that can improve your brain.”
At Vitafoods 2023, Davis aims to communicate this opportunity and explain what it takes to be successful in targeting this specific population. “I’ll provide examples of companies that are trying to break through, as well as ideas for claims that could be pursued with clinical studies,” she says. “It is clear that high standards for clinical trials will be critical to reach what is a highly sceptical group.”
During her presentation, Davis will also emphasise that Gen Z concerns about mental wellness are not going to go away. These issues – often stemming from teenage life – will continue to be a problem, as they reflect the environment within which this generation grew up in. Future generations to come will also be growing up in a distracting, attention-grabbing, mediatised world.
“The good news is that as technology advances, companies will be able to carry out these trials quicker and more efficiently,” says Davis. “It will take time, but [artificial intelligence] AI technology is beginning to be utilised to make clinical trials faster, cheaper and more relevant.”
Combined with more regulatory pressure, Davis believes that brands are increasingly motivated to carry out this necessary research. “Brands need to carry out clinical trials on their finished formulas, and not just piggyback on the work done by suppliers,” she says. “There are a few brands that are doing this now. This is how you’ll get Gen Z consumers trusting products, and getting on board with natural ingredients. I see this industry moving in a positive direction.”
Isabella Davis is an expert in consumer trends within the nutrition and wellness industry. At Nutrition Advisors, she focuses on market research, marketing and operations, and draws from her past as a social media influencer. Her presentation at Vitafoods 2023 will focus on ‘Gen Z's view on mental health, and how the wellness industry will shift’.