Nutrition Research Reviews

Research Article

Social influences on eating: implications for nutritional interventions

Eric Robinsona1, Jackie Blissetta2 and Suzanne Higgsa2 c1

a1 Psychological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3GL, UK

a2 School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK

Abstract

We review recent research on the effect of social context on food intake and food choice and assess the implications for nutritional interventions. We focus on studies of modelling of eating behaviour and the impact of perceived eating norms on the amounts and types of food that individuals eat. We suggest that social context influences eating via multiple mechanisms, including identity signalling and self-presentation concerns. However, building on existing theoretical models, we propose that social factors may be particularly influential on nutrition because following the behaviour of others is adaptive and social norms inform individuals about behaviours that are likely to be optimal (‘if everyone else is doing it, I probably should be’). Guided by understanding of the potential underlying mechanisms, we discuss how social norms might be used to promote healthier nutrition.

Key Words:

  • Social norms;
  • Social influence;
  • Food intake;
  • Food choice;
  • Modelling

Correspondence

c1 Corresponding author: Dr Suzanne Higgs, fax +1 121 414 4987, email s.higgs.1@bham.ac.uk