A University of Liverpool researcher has found that people eat more to match the behaviour of those around them, without being consciously aware of it.
Psychologist, Dr Eric Robinson, reviewed 15 recent studies which looked into what effect beliefs about what other people are eating has on the amounts and types of food we choose to eat.
Without often being aware of it, people who were told that everyone else was eating more would help themselves to more food. If they were told that others in the group were making low calorie food choices, then they were more likely to copy this behaviour.
This is likely to have been caused by people – consciously or subconsciously – trying to fit in with the group norm.
However, as the process works both ways, Dr Robinson from the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, believes that it is possible to normalise healthy eating behaviour through public information campaigns.
He said: “The evidence is consistent with the idea that eating behaviours can be transmitted socially.
“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 normalise healthy eating habits or reduce the prevalence of beliefs that lots of people eat unhealthily may have beneficial effects on public health.”
The paper, ‘What Everyone Else Is Eating: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Informational Eating Norms on Eating Behavior’, is published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Read it here.
The project was led by Dr Robinson, alongside colleagues at the University of Birmingham and the University of Oxford.