Social norms, including having a knowledge of other people's
eating habits, has a distinct influence on our own food choices,
according to new data from a new meta-analysis.
The systematic review examined data from 15 experimental studies
- each of which examined whether or not providing information about
other people's eating habits influences food intake or choices.
Writing in theJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and
Dietetics,the team behind the analysis said they found consistent
evidence that such social norms do influence food choice and
Indeed, the team led by Dr Eric Robinson from the University of
Liverpool revealed that when 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.
"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,"explained
"Norms influence behaviour by altering the extent to which an
individual perceives the behaviour in question to be beneficial to
them,"he said."Human behaviour can be guided by a perceived group
norm, even when people have little or no motivation to please other
Robinson and his colleagues looked at data from a total of
fifteen studies from eleven publications.
Eight of the studies examined how information about food intake
norms influenced food consumed by participants, while seven other
studies reported the effects of food choice norms on how people
decide what food to eat.
In addition to finding that providing information about other
people's eating habits influences the food intake or choices of
others, the team also revealed that social norms influence the
quantity of food eaten.
Indeed, the review noted that suggesting other people eat large
portions increased food intake by the participants.
The team suggested the need to solidify our place in our social
group is just one way social norms influence our food choices. The
analysis also found 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.
"Given that in some studies the participants did not believe
that their behaviour was influenced by the informational eating
norms, it seems that participants may not have been consciously
considering the norm information when making food
While the team cautioned that more research is needed, they did
suggest that this type of study 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 behaviours can be transmitted socially,"said 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."
Source: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2013.11.009
"What Everyone Else Is Eating: A Systematic Review and
Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Informational Eating Norms on Eating
Authors: Eric Robinson, Jason Thomas, Paul
Aveyard, Suzanne Higg
Link to full article: