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A new study suggests that people’s eating habits are likely influenced by their peers online.
The study, published in the journal Appetite, revealed that social media users are more likely to eat certain types of food if they think their peers online do the same. Researchers from Aston University interviewed 369 university students for the study. The students were asked to estimate how much sugary drinks, snacks, vegetables, and fruits they think their friends online consume each day. They were also asked about their own eating habits.
The researchers then compared the reports about the students’ own eating habits with the estimates of what the subjects’ peers eat. The analysis revealed that people eat the same kinds of food they think their peers online approve of and consume.
Participants who believe their peers online eat junk food tend to also snack on considerably more unhealthy food. On the other hand, participants who believe their peers eat healthily also eat more servings of fruits and vegetables.
Study lead author Lily Hawkins explained that the reason behind the phenomenon is that people subconsciously rely on how others behave when choosing what food to eat.
According to Hawkins, the study’s findings suggest that social media can be used as a tool to influence people’s eating habits through their friends or social groups. She believes that health professionals can use this knowledge to create policies that can improve general public health.
For the next stage of the study, the researchers will observe the participants over a period of time to see whether social media’s influence on their eating habits has any long-term effects on their weight.