Are Your Friends Influencing Your Food Choices?

A man eating a hamburger on blue background.

Medically reviewed in January 2022

You're unwinding with friends at the local pub for a brew and a bite to eat. Now it's your turn to order. That low-fat salad actually sounds kind of tasty—plus you know it's healthy for you—but everyone else either picked a personal pizza or a half-pound burger. You decide not to stand out. Before you even realize it, your belly's full of beef and suds, and later on you're reaching for the Tums.

Does this situation sound familiar? Several studies point out that your peers may have a lot more influence on your eating habits than you think.

Eating to Fit In
In a review published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, British researchers analyzed 15 studies that looked at the way peer pressure affects what and how much people eat. The evidence was consistent: We tend to go along with the crowd. If we see others making low-calorie or high-calorie choices, we follow suit. Similarly, if everyone else is eating huge portions, we end up chowing down, as well.

We do it as a way of “reinforcing identity to a social group,” the researchers explain. Translation: We just want to fit in. Even when we have nutritional information to help guide our choices, peer effects often take over. What's more, we don't even realize the impact our friends have on our eating habits, and we continue to copy them even when we’re eating alone.

The Health Consequences
And if you aren't paying attention to what you eat and how it negatively affects your body, you're at a higher risk of developing obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other troublesome diseases. Other research has found that having close friends who are obese raises your risk of becoming obese by a whopping 57 percent!

So, the next time it feels like your pals are pushing you to make an unhealthy decision in your diet, stop yourself in your tracks and become an agent for change. Make a mindful effort to eat healthy no matter where you are or whom you're with, and surround yourself with others who share your same goals for healthy living.

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