Background: Laboratory studies have demonstrated that exposure to social norm messages conveying the typical eating behaviour of others, can nudge participants to consume more low energy-dense (LED) and fewer high energy-dense (HED) snacks, both of which are desirable from an obesity perspective. In the digital age, it is plausible that social norms conveying what others are eating, and approve of eating, are communicated via social media, however, this has not been tested experimentally. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate the acute effect of socially endorsed social media posts on participants eating behaviour.
Methods: Healthy women students (n=168; mean age=20.9; mean BMI=23.3) were assigned to either a HED, LED or control condition, where they viewed three types of images (HED foods, LED foods and interior design as control), but only one type was socially endorsed (e.g. in the control condition, only the interior design images were socially endorsed). Participants completed several questionnaires and were also provided a snack buffet of grapes and cookies.
Results: One-way ANOVA revealed a significant main effect of condition on participants relative consumption of grapes (percentage of grapes consumed out of total food intake), for both grams (P=.03) and calories consumed (P=.03). Follow-up t-tests revealed that participants chose a larger proportion of grapes in both grams and calories in the LED condition vs HED condition (all Ps <.05), and a larger proportion of calories from grapes in the LED compared to control condition (P<.05).
Conclusions: These findings suggest that exposure to socially endorsed images of LED food on social media could nudge people to consume more of, and derive more calories from these foods in place of HED foods. Further research is now required to investigate whether exposure to socially endorsed images of LED foods can produce similar effects with individuals who are obese.
Keywords: Social norms, social media, healthy eating, food consumption
Disclosures: The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
12 Sep 2019 - 13 Sep 2019