According to some recent British research published in Appetite (Feb 6), the people you befriend on social media can have an impact on your eating habits.
The study interviewed 400 college students about what their Facebook friends were eating – they were asked to think about how much fruit and vegetables were eaten versus the snacks and sugary drinks.
The respondents who believed their contacts ate the recommended 5-a-day of fruit and veg were shown to eat one extra serving themselves, but they also ate another portion of snack foods and sugary drinks for every three portions they believed were consumed by their online friends.
The study indicates that we may all be subject to a lot more influence from our peers than we think. It seems that there is some subconscious influence that makes us consider the behavior of others when choosing our food.
If this is the case it could, therefore, be possible to use social media to influence people to take up healthier eating habits.
The researchers point to the use of social media as a way of nudging people to change their behavior, using the influence of friendship groups and combining this with the results of the study to use social media as a tool for improving public health.
Eating habits did not seem to be significantly linked to the participant’s BMI (body mass index) which estimates body fat based on a calculation of an individual's weight and height.
The researchers plan to follow up on the study to look at how social media's influence on eating habits has a long term impact on individuals' weight.