If you think your Facebook friends eat fruits and vegetables, you’re likely to start eating or eat more fruits and vegetables, too. Conversely, if you think your Facebook friends eat junk food, you’re likely to do the same.
That’s the gist of research that investigators say is the first evidence online social circles influence our eating habits.
It may also have important implications for using ‘nudge’ techniques on social media to encourage healthy eating.
In the study, published in the scientific journal Appetite, the Aston University researchers asked 369 university students to estimate the amount of fruit, vegetables, “energy-dense snacks” and sugary drinks their Facebook peers consumed on a daily basis.
This information was cross-referenced with the participants’ own actual eating habits and showed that those who felt their social circles “approved” of eating junk food consumed significantly more themselves. Meanwhile, those who thought their friends ate a healthy diet ate more portions of fruit and veggies. Their perceptions could have come from seeing friends’ posts about the food and drink they consumed, or simply a general impression of their overall health.
“This study suggests we may be influenced by our social peers more than we realize when choosing certain foods,” said Aston University health psychology student Lily Hawkins, who helped lead the study. “We seem to be subconsciously accounting for how others behave when making our own food choices.”
You can read more about the study here.