If your social media friends are junk food junkies, they may also be encouraging you to indulge. And if they snack on vegetables and fruits, you’re likely to do the same.
That’s the upshot of recent findings showing that eating habits can spread virally online. Specifically, social media users who believed their online friends ate a fifth daily serving of fruits and vegetables were more likely to do the same thing.
Likewise, the perception of bad eating habits also is contagious. Facebook users in the study ate one extra portion of unhealthy snacks or sweetened drinks for every three servings consumed by their social media peers.
The findings by researchers in England are the first to suggest that social media circles could implicitly influence eating habits. The scientists noted it also has important implications for encouraging healthy eating.
To establish their findings, researchers tracked the eating and social media habits of about 400 university students. Those who thought their friends ate more junk food or healthy items followed those cues. That suggests that social media peers may have more influence over food choices than previously thought. It also implies that social media may be a powerful tool for public health interventions.
Next, the researchers want to track online groups over time to determine their long-term impact on individuals’ weight and eating habits. They also note that there’s a definite distinction between encouraging healthy eating and so-called “food shaming.”
So keep an eye on your online friends’ eating habits. They may be subtly pushing you to be fit or fat.