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Do social norms influence what we eat
and how much?

Which foods we eat and how much we eat are partly influenced by the eating habits of the people around us. This is the result of a British meta-analysis of 15 experimental studies into eating habits each of which examined whether or not having information about what other people ate and how much influenced participants’ food choices and intake. Most of the test persons were female, normal weight students.

Looking to see what others are doing

People generally tend to align their behaviour with that of the people around them and with the norms of the social group they feel they belong to. This evidently also applies to eating habits. If participants are told that other people are eating high-calorie food, then they are more inclined to go for fast food and high-energy snacks. On the other hand, someone associating with people eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables is likely to be motivated to do the same. The information that „other students“ were getting large portions led participants to increase their own consumption moderately. If they were told that other people were in general eating very little, then they also cut back on their food intake.

We’re often unaware of what’s influencing us

The researchers found consistent evidence that even when we’re eating alone and unobserved, our eating behaviour is influenced by social aspects. Attitudes and eating habits are often adopted at a subconscious level. Further research is needed to look into the many reasons for the food choices made by different groups pf participants. It is thought that this type of research can in the long run help steer people towards a healthier diet and away from obesity.

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de