Wellness

You Are What Your Friends Eat

How social peers influence diets

The Lempert Report

A study from the U.K. suggests we may be influenced by our social peers more than we realize when choosing certain foods.

A team of researchers from Aston University in the U.K. recently published a paper that asked, “Do perceived norms of social media users' eating habits and preferences predict our own food consumption and BMI?” What they found is that though Facebook didn’t have any correlation with body mass index, subjects’ eating habits did tend to align with how they felt their digital social circles ate. People who thought their Facebook friends ate more fruits and vegetables ate more fruits and vegetables themselves. And users who believed their Facebook circles were into junk food ate more junk food, according to an article in Food & Wine.

Specifically, the research surveyed 369 college students—both men and women with an average age of about 22—who were asked first about “their perceptions of Facebook users' consumption of and preferences for fruit, vegetables, energy-dense snacks and sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs),” according to the study, after which they were asked about “their own consumption of and preferences for these foods.”  

“This study suggests we may be influenced by our social peers more than we realize when choosing certain foods. We seem to be subconsciously accounting for how others behave when making our own food choices,” Lily Hawkins, a health psychology Ph.D. student and a lead author of the paper, said in announcing the findings. "So if we believe our friends are happy to consume lots of snacks and sugary drinks, it can give us a ‘license to overeat’ foods that are bad for our health. The implication is that we can use social media as a tool to ‘nudge’ each other's eating behavior within friendship groups, and potentially use this knowledge as a tool for public health interventions.”

This study would seem to reinforce that it’s hard to simply disconnect your real life from your social media one. When it comes to food, we used to say “you are what you eat.” Now it's “you are what your friends eat.”

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