We’ve all heard “you are what you eat,” but what about what your friends eat? A new study suggests that peer pressure may play a significant role when it comes to healthy eating, for better and worse.
Research conducted by the University of Liverpool found that social factors–the people we eat with and their relationship with food–can influence the choices we make about food. Apparently, we are subconsciously aware of other people’s eating habits, and are likely to change our behavior to match. This pattern of social influence can be both a help or a hindrance, especially when it comes to keeping those New Year’s resolutions about healthy eating.
To test his theory about peer pressure and healthy eating, psychologist Dr. Eric Robinson analyzed 15 recent studies that focused on the effect our perceptions about what other people eat has on the amounts and types of food we choose to eat.
“Without often being aware of it, people who were told that everyone else was eating more would help themselves to more food. If they were told that others in the group were making low calorie food choices, then they were more likely to copy this behavior,” reports a University press release.
This fits with what many of us see in our own social circles. No one likes to answer questions about their tiny portions, or refuse dessert at a birthday party. When in Rome…it’s just easier to eat the chocolate cake and feel guilty in silence.
“It appears that in some contexts, conforming to informational eating norms may be a way of reinforcing identity to a social group, which is in line with social identity theory,” said Robinson, lead investigator on the study, told WebProNews.
Although Robinson observed this as a negative phenomenon, he says there’s evidence that the peer pressure could work both ways. “Policies or messages that normalise [sic] healthy eating habits or reduce the prevalence of beliefs that lots of people eat unhealthily may have beneficial effects on public health,” he explained in a statement.
The moral of the story? If you’re trying to establish healthy eating habits, spend your lunch break in the company of others working toward the same goal.
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