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Peer Pressure May Influence Your Food Choices

Researchers found people were more likely to eat what they thought others were eating

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Dec. 30, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Peer pressure might play a part in what you eat and how much you eat, a new review suggests.

British researchers said their findings could help shape public health policies, including campaigns to promote healthy eating.

The review was published Dec. 30 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"The evidence reviewed here is consistent with the idea that eating behaviors can be transmitted socially," lead investigator Eric Robinson, of the University of Liverpool, said in a journal news release. "Taking these points into consideration, the findings of the present review may have implications for the development of more effective public-health campaigns to promote healthy eating."

In conducting the review, the researchers analyzed 15 studies published in 11 different journals. Of these, eight analyzed how people's food choices are affected by information on eating norms. Seven studies focused on the effects of these norms on how people decide what they are going to eat.

People who were told that other people were making low-calorie or high-calorie food choices were much more likely to make the same choices themselves. The review also revealed that social norms affect how much food people eat. People who are told that others are eating large quantities of food are more likely to eat more.

The researchers said people's food choices are clearly linked to their social identity.

"It appears that in some contexts, conforming to informational eating norms may be a way of reinforcing identity to a social group," Robinson said.

The researchers said the influence is present even if people are not aware of the association -- or if they are eating alone.

"Norms influence behavior by altering the extent to which an individual perceives the behavior in question to be beneficial to them," Robinson said. "Human behavior can be guided by a perceived group norm, even when people have little or no motivation to please other people."

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