I’ll Have What They’re Having: Study Finds Social Norms Influence Food Choices

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I’ll Have What They’re Having: Study Finds Social Norms Influence Food Choices

I’ll Have What They’re Having: Study Finds Social Norms Influence Food Choices
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Journal of Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics-I’ll Have What They’re Having:Social Norms Influence Food Choice http://3bl.me/gpprr6
Press Release
Monday, December 30, 2013 - 10:30am

Philadelphia, PA, December 30, 2013 /3BL Media/ – Is obesity a socially transmitted disease? In order to try to find out, researchers in the United Kingdom conducted a systematic review of several experimental studies, each of which examined whether or not providing information about other peoples’ eating habits influences food intake or choices. Their results are published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The review looked at a total of fifteen studies from eleven publications. Eight of the studies examined how information about food intake norms influenced food consumed by participants. Seven other studies reported the effects of food choice norms on how people decide what food to eat. After examining the data, investigators found consistent evidence that social norms influence food.

This meta-analysis found that if participants were given information indicating that others were making low-calorie or high-calorie food choices, it significantly increased the likelihood that participants made similar choices. Also, data indicate that social norms influence the quantity of food eaten. Additionally, the review indicated that suggesting that others eat large portions increased food intake by the participants. There was also a strong association between eating and social identity.

“It appears that in some contexts, conforming to informational eating norms may be a way of reinforcing identity to a social group, which is in line with social identity theory,” explains lead investigator Eric Robinson, PhD, of the University of Liverpool. “By this social identity account, if a person’s sense of self is strongly guided by their identity as a member of their local community and that community is perceived to eat healthily, then that person would be hypothesized to eat healthily in order to maintain a consistent sense of social identity.”

The need to solidify our place in our social group is just one way investigators found social norms influence our food choices. The analysis also revealed that the social mechanisms that influence what we decide to consume are present even when we eat alone or are at work, whether or not we are aware of it.

“Norms influence behavior by altering the extent to which an individual perceives the behavior in question to be beneficial to them. Human behavior can be guided by a perceived group norm, even when people have little or no motivation to please other people,” says Dr. Robinson. “Given that in some studies the participants did not believe that their behavior was influenced by the informational eating norms, it seems that participants may not have been consciously considering the norm information when making food choices.”

Investigators caution that more research is needed, but that these types of studies can help us understand the way people make decisions about food consumption and can help shape public policy and messaging about healthy choices.

“The evidence reviewed here is consistent with the idea that eating behaviors can be transmitted socially,” remarks Dr. Robinson. “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.’ Policies or messages that normalize healthy eating habits or reduce the prevalence of beliefs that lots of people eat unhealthily may have beneficial effects on public health.”

ACCOMPANYING VIDEO www.andjrnl.org/content/podcast

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Notes for editors
“What Everyone Else is Eating: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Informational Eating Norms on Eating Behavior,” by Eric Robinson, PhD; Jason Thomas; Paul Aveyard, PhD; Suzanne Higgs, PhD, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2013.11.009, published by Elsevier.

Full text of this article is available to credentialed journalists upon request. Contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 238 3628 or andjrnlmedia@elsevier.com to obtain copies. Journalists wishing to interview Dr. Robinson may contact him directly at Eric.Robinson@liverpool.ac.uk.

A video featuring Jason Thomas and information specifically for journalists are located at www.andjrnl.org/content/podcast. Excerpts from the video may be reproduced by the media; contact Eileen Leahy to obtain permission.

About the authors
Eric Robinson, PhD, is a Tenure Track Research Fellow, Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom.

Jason Thomas is an ESRC Research Fellow, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom.

Paul Aveyard, PhD, is a Professor of Behavioral Medicine, Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, Wolfson College, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Suzanne Higgs, PhD, is Research Psychologist, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom.

About The Journal of the Academy Of Nutrition and Dietetics
The official journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (www.eatright.org), the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (www.andjrnl.org) is the premier source for the practice and science of food, nutrition and dietetics. The monthly, peer-reviewed journal presents original articles prepared by scholars and practitioners and is the most widely read professional publication in the field. The Journal focuses on advancing professional knowledge across the range of research and practice issues such as: nutritional science, medical nutrition therapy, public health nutrition, food science and biotechnology, food service systems, leadership and management and dietetics education.

The Journal has a current Impact Factor of 3.797 in the Nutrition and Dietetics category of the 2012 Journal Citation Reports®, published by Thomson Reuters. It was previously published as the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

About The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (www.eatright.org), formerly the American Dietetic Association, is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. The company works in partnership with the global science and health communities to publish more than 2,000 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and 25,000 book titles, including major reference works from Mosby and Saunders. Elsevier’s online solutions include ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, Reaxys, ClinicalKey and Mosby’s Suite, which enhance the productivity of science and health professionals, helping research and health care institutions deliver better outcomes more cost-effectively.

A global business headquartered in Amsterdam, Elsevier employs 7,000 people worldwide. The company is part of Reed Elsevier Group PLC, a world leading provider of professional information solutions in the Science, Medical, Legal and Risk and Business sectors, which is jointly owned by Reed Elsevier PLC and Reed Elsevier NV. The ticker symbols are REN (Euronext Amsterdam), REL (London Stock Exchange), RUK and ENL (New York Stock Exchange).

Media contact
Eileen Leahy
Elsevier
+1 732 238 3628
andjrnlmedia@elsevier.com

Ryan O’Malley
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
+1 800 877 1600 ext. 4769
media@eatright.org