Researchers at Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences in the UK found that people are more likely to eat the way their friends do, as determined by what they post on social platforms.
The study revealed university students ate more of certain foods if they believed their friends on social media were doing the same.
This was found to be true of both positive and negative dietary habits – participants ate more fruits and vegetables if they perceived that their social media contacts consumed a healthy diet, and they ate more junk food if they perceived their contacts approved of eating junk food.
The study saw 369 universesity students note their perceptions of their social media contacts’ consumption of fruit, vegetables, sugary drinks and ‘energy-dense’ snacks.
They also had to note their own consumption of these foods and report their BMIs.
Researchers said the findings have important implications for using ‘nudge’ techniques on social media to encourage healthy eating.
Aston University health psychology PhD student Lily Hawkins, who led the study alongside supervisor Dr Jason Thomas, said, “This study suggests we may be influenced by our social peers more than we realise when choosing certain foods. We seem to be subconsciously accounting for how others behave when making our own food choices.
“So if we believe our friends are eating plenty of fruit and veg we’re more likely to eat fruit and veg ourselves. On the other hand, if we feel they’re happy to consume lots of snacks and sugary drinks, it can give us a ‘licence 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 behaviour within friendship groups, and potentially use this knowledge as a tool for public health interventions.”