Perhaps your social media feed is filled with a visual buffet of pastries and glistening chicken wings. Or maybe it’s on the opposite end of the spectrum, showcasing towering salads and “healthified” desserts. Either way, it appears we are more likely to follow the food habits we see portrayed most often on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, according to research in the June issue of Appetite.
Investigators from Aston University in Birmingham, England, recruited 369 college students and asked them to report their perceptions of what people in their Facebook feeds were eating—specifically the amounts of fruit, vegetables, energy-dense snacks and sugar-sweetened beverages being consumed. Students were also asked about their own eating habits.
The researchers determined that food consumption habits of virtual friends significantly predicted study participants’ eating habits. Subjects who noticed that their social circles gave a thumbs-up to junk food reported choosing more of that type of food themselves; likewise, those who noticed that Facebook friends ate more healthfully—selecting meals rich in fruits and vegetables—were more likely to adopt those nutrition habits.
These findings may give some people reason to reevaluate the food-focused social peers they follow. The study should also encourage influencers in the fitness industry to prioritize posting health-eating messages and images of nutritious foods and meals, since any posts—positive or negative—could influence what their social media followers choose to eat.
See also: Nutrition Technology Optimization