British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Behaviour, Appetite and Obesity

Food choices in the presence of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ eating partners

Eric Robinsona1 c1 and Suzanne Higgsa1

a1 School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK


Eating with others has been shown to influence the amount of food eaten in a meal or snack. We examined whether choosing food in the presence of another person who is choosing either predominantly low-energy-dense or high-energy-dense foods affects food choices. A between-subjects laboratory-based study was used. A group of 100 young females selected a lunch-time meal from a buffet consisting of a range of high-energy-dense and low-energy-dense foods, in the presence of an ‘unhealthy’ eating partner (who chose predominantly high-energy-dense foods) or a ‘healthy’ eating partner (who chose predominantly low-energy-dense foods) or when alone. Participants in the ‘unhealthy’ eating partner condition were significantly less likely to choose and consume a low-energy-dense food item (carrots), than when choosing alone or in the presence of a ‘healthy’ eater. Choice of high-energy-dense food did not differ across the conditions, nor did the total energy consumed. These data suggest that social influences on food choice are limited in this context but the presence of an ‘unhealthy’ eating partner may undermine intentions to consume low-energy-dense foods.

(Received January 05 2012)

(Revised February 15 2012)

(Accepted April 18 2012)

(Online publication May 30 2012)

Key Words:

  • Social eating;
  • Modelling;
  • Food choice


c1 Corresponding author: Dr E. Robinson, E-mail: