There was a time when social media was simply used as a means to stay in touch with your friends or make new connections. Now, that entire scene seems to have changed. A new study has found that your Facebook friends could actually influence your eating habits. And this is something that happens normally within families too. For example, if your parents are more inclined towards a vegan diet, you'll end up eating more vegan products.
The new study, on the other hand, suggests that that social media influence may go even beyond the influence our families have on us when it comes to food habits. A paper on this topic was recently published and it asked a rather important question, which was, “Do perceived norms of social media users' eating habits and preferences predict our own food consumption and BMI?”
It was found that while social media didn't really do anything to influence people's BMIs, it certainly did nudge them when it came to changing eating habits. For example, if people believed that their Facebook friends ate more fruits and veggies, they were inclined to eat more fruits and veggies too. And people who believed their online friends ate a lot of junk food were more inclined to indulge in junk food themselves.
“This study suggests we may be influenced by our social peers more than we realize when choosing certain foods. We seem to be subconsciously accounting for how others behave when making our own food choices,” said Lily Hawkins, a health psychology PhD student and a lead author of the paper. "So if we believe our friends are eating plenty of fruit and veg we're more likely to eat fruit and veg ourselves. On the other hand, if we feel they're happy to consume lots of snacks and sugary drinks, it can give us a ‘license to overeat’ foods that are bad for our health. The implication is that we can use social media as a tool to ‘nudge’ each other's eating behaviour within friendship groups, and potentially use this knowledge as a tool for public health interventions.”
Hawkins further suggested that this usually happens because people might think that their social media friends are like them and are equally indulgent in such foods. “Further studies may want to consider looking at this, too,” she said. “However, we were just looking at an initial association between perceptions of social media users’ eating habits and our own, and our study shows at least that the association is significant in this direction.”