Social media likes have a positive influence

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Social media users who see images of healthy foods that have been strongly endorsed by “likes” are more likely to make healthier food choices, according to a new study.

The research, conducted by psychologists at Aston University’s College of Health and Life Sciences, found that study participants who saw highly rated fictitious Instagram posts of fruits and vegetables were eating a significantly higher proportion of grapes than cookies, the consumption of grapes increasing by 14% more. calories, compared to those who enjoyed high calorie foods.

The study, published in the scientific journal Appetite, investigated the acute effect of company-approved social media posts on participants’ eating behavior. The 169 participants, who had an average age of 21 (but the total age across the group ranged from 18 to 48), were asked to view fictitious Instagram posts of different types of food, which contained a few or a lot of “likes”, and later provided access to grapes and cookies to consume.

In addition to viewing images of fruits and vegetables, participants also looked at less nutritious foods such as cakes and cookies, and non-food images such as stylish interiors. However, the researchers found that participants consumed a greater proportion of grapes after viewing popular images of fruits and vegetables, compared to other images.

Lily Hawkins, a doctoral student in psychology at Aston University, who led the study alongside supervisor Dr Jason Thomas, said:

“The study results suggest that not only exposure to images of healthy food on social media, but also those that are also strongly endorsed by ‘likes’, may cause people to choose to. eat more healthy foods, instead of less nutritious foods. “

“What we see others approving of eating and posting about food on social media can affect our actual eating behavior and could lead to more consumption of healthier meals and snacks.”

“One of the reasons for this may be that thinking that others ‘like’ and eat fruits and vegetables causes participants to change their behavior in order to accommodate what they perceive to be the norm.”

The most recent figures from the NHS Health Survey for England showed that in 2018, only 28% of adults ate the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. In Wales the figure was 24 per cent, in Scotland 22 per cent and in Northern Ireland around 20 per cent. Children and young people across the UK had even lower levels of fruit and vegetable consumption.

The study results suggest that social media could be used in the future as a way to encourage healthier eating – by encouraging users to follow more social media accounts who liked nutritionally balanced posts very much, also containing healthier foods.

The researchers said the next step in their work would test an intervention using real Instagram accounts, to test whether asking people to actively follow more social media accounts posting images of highly-rated nutrient-rich foods. , can encourage people to consume more fruits and vegetables over a sustained period of time.

Professor Claire Farrow, director of the Applied Health Research Group at Aston University, whose work contributed to the national resource Child Feeding Guide, added:

“We know that social interactions can strongly shape what, when and how much we eat. These findings highlight the important role social media play in shaping these online influences. “

“The results suggest that people don’t just passively see information about what other people eat online, but that this digital information can shape our food preferences and choices, especially when we think a lot of other people like certain people.” food. It is promising that exposure to healthy foods, and tastes of these foods, is linked to greater consumption of healthy foods. “

“More research is needed to determine if and how these findings can be translated into digital interventions to help people who want to make healthier food choices and to understand how social media platforms can be used as a tool to support behavior. healthy food. “

For more information on studying Psychology at Aston University, please visit the College of Health and Life Sciences and the Psychology Course pages.


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