A new study, published in the journal Appetite, has shown that people's food choices are influenced by what they see their friends eating on social media. This is great if you're among of group of people that eat healthily however not so much if most of your friends are regularly guzzling foods that are bad for your health.
Scientists found that those that saw their friends eating fruit and vegetables on Facebook ate an extra portion each day themselves, and junk food consumption increased by a third if people believed their friends were also indulging.
Social media could be used to combat bad eating habits in children
The research was conducted by scientists are Aston University in Birmingham, who believe that their findings could help to combat bad eating habits in children using social media.
Lily Hawkins, the study leader said:
'This study suggested we may be influenced by our social peers more than we realise when choosing certain foods. We seem to be subconsciously accounting for how other 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 "license to oveeat" 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.'
Less than a third of us eat our 5 a day
The study comprised 369 university students whom were asked to estimate the amount of fruit, vegetables, calorie dense snacked and sugary drinks their friends on Facebook ate every day. This was then cross referenced with the individual's own eating habits - it revealed that those who felt their social circle 'approved' of junk food ate more themselves and those that thought their friends consumed a healthy diet ate more fruit and veg. It's important to note that the research showed no link between people's eating habits and their BMI, the scientists are undertaking further research to assess a group of people over a period of time to see how social media influences eating habits longer term and how this then affects weight.
Worryingly the National Health Service's last health survey back in 2018 put only 28%, that's well under a third, of adults as eating the recommended 5 portions of fruit and veg a day.
Aisling Pigott, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, said:
'Research such as this demonstrates how we are influenced by online perceptions about how others eat. The promotion of positive health messages across social media, which are focused on promoting healthy choices and non-restrictive relationships with food and body, could nudge people into making positive decisions around the food they eat.'
Professor Claire Farrow, Director of Aston University's Applied Health Research Group, added:
'The important new findings from this study could help shape how we deliver interventions that help them [young people] adopt healthy eating habits from a young age - and stick with them for life.'