Social recipes for appetite: Peer influence on young people's food choice and intake
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Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, 28 november 2013
Promotor : Engels, R.C.M.E. Co-promotor : Anschutz, D.J.
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In view of the growing obesity epidemic, it is important to investigate social factors that influence people’s eating behavior. People are believed to adjust their consumption behavior to social benchmarks in situations without pre- existing guidelines and/or when they have social motives to conform to others. The research described in this dissertation aims to advance the understanding of the impact of one’s consumption behavior on young people’s food choice and intake. Social modeling studies were conducted in which naïve participants were exposed to a peer (i.e., the experimental confederate) who was instructed to select and/or eat a predetermined amount of food. The person(s) surrounding us while we are eating can be a powerful marker as well as tool for our food choice and intake. Social norms have an important influence on our eating behavior because the performance of these behaviors endorses our sense of belonging. Every social situation holds its own array of norms for appropriate behavior which is derived from the behavior of others. Although some young people are more susceptible to be influenced by other’s food choice and intake than others (e.g., due to our body weight and self-esteem) and personal norms might strengthen or protect against this influence, social modeling behavior is likely to impact all of us because we are often not really aware of social influences. The findings and suggestions presented in this dissertation could be used as a starting point for developing and testing adequate interventions aiming at encouraging healthy eating behaviors among young people. Instead of focusing merely on encouraging young people to eat (novel) low-energy-dense foods, the use of a peer model to discourage high-energy-dense food choices should receive more attention. As people’s eating habits are embedded in our home and school environment, there is an inherent responsibility for these social networks.
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