A study by School of Life and Health Sciences of Aston University’s found that if participants thought their social media peers ate a lot of fruits and vegetables, they will eat a fifth more fruits and vegetables of their own. Interestingly, if they believe their friends ate “five portions a day” of fruits and vegetables, they were more likely to eat one more portion themselves.
On the contrary, the study found that Facebook users thought they ate one more portions of unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks if their friends eat every three more unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks in their social circle. The results show that if our friends like junk food, we will also eat one-third more junk food.
1. Social Media: A Powerful Tool
Researchers at Aston University say the findings provide the first evidence that the social networking world may be potentially influencing people’s eating habits, which is important for using so-called “Micro-Promoting” techniques on social media to encourage healthy eating.
For the study, published in the scientific journal Appetite, researchers asked 369 college students to estimate how much fruit, vegetables, high-energy snacks and sugary drinks their Facebook friends consume each day.
By comparing this information with participants’ own eating habits, it was found that those who thought their social circle was “in favor” of eating junk food significantly consumed more junk food. At the same time, those who thought their Internet friends had a healthy diet also ate more fruits and vegetables. Their views may come from posts by friends related to food and drink, or simply from an overall impression of their overall health.
However, there was no significant link between participants’ eating habits and their body mass index (BMI). The researchers say the next phase of work will track participants over time to see if the effects of social media on eating habits have a long-term impact on weight.
A health survey by the NHS found that only 28 per cent of adults will eat the recommended five portions a day of fruit and vegetables in 2018. In Wales, it is 24 per cent, in Scotland it is 22 per cent and in Northern Ireland it is about 20 per cent. Children and young people in the UK consume less fruit and vegetables.
2. Permit to Indulge Yourself?
This study shows that when we choose certain foods, we may be more socially affected than we realize. In other words, we think subconsciously about the actions of others.
If we believe our friends are choosing to consume large amounts of fruits and vegetables, we are more likely to choose to eat them ourselves, the researchers said. On the other hand, if we feel that our peers like to consume large quantities of snacks and sugary drinks, this means that we are given permit to overeat, which is harmful to our health. This means that we can use social media as a tool to promote each other’s eating behaviors in our circle of friends, and at the same time it is possible to use this knowledge as a tool for public health prevention.
Professor Claire Farrow, director of the Applied Health Research Group at Aston University, said that because children and young people spend a lot of time interacting with peers and influential people through social media, the study found that it could help shape how they provide interventions that help users develop healthy eating habits from an early age and stick to them for life.
Aisling Pigott, a registered dietitian at the British Dietetic Association (BDA), says such research shows how we are influenced by other people’s dietary attitudes on social media. Promoting positive health messages on social media, with a focus on promoting healthy choices and non-restrictive relationships with food and the body, may prompt people to make positive decisions about what they eat.