Food vs. Friends

January 29, 2010

Most of us are aware of how socializing and eating with friends and family can affect our usual habits.

Most of us are aware of how socializing and eating with friends and family can affect our usual habits. Although this phenomenon is hard to quantify and thus prove, a study conducted by the University of Buffalo’s Division of Behavioral Medicine, published in January’s Annals of Behavioral Medicine studied the interrelationship between food and social activity in children. This is the first lab based study of its kind and results indicate that friends may influence how much adolescents eat. 
Fifty-four overweight and non-overweight children ages nine to 11 were randomly assigned to bring a friend or were paired with an unfamiliar peer, to complete computer games. Points awarded were exchangeable for food, or time to spend with their friend or peer. Children were able to choose games based on the reward they preferred. The games gradually increased in difficulty as did points awarded; this served as measurement for how hard youth were willing to work for the rewards. 
Participants matched with an unfamiliar peer switched between working towards food and spending time with the unfamiliar peer based on difficulty of the game. On the other hand, participants assigned to the friend condition continued to work for time with their friend instead of working for food. Results shed light on the fact that a “youth's social network may be uniquely relevant and influential to eating behavior and choice of activities… Individuals are influenced by the eating and activity norms set by those around them…” commented Salvy, the lead author on the study. 
Salvy, also noted that, “Findings underscore the importance of considering the child's social network in studying youth's motivation to eat… Previous attempts to find substitutes for food and eating have not been very successful”
The Lempert Report would have to agree with the authors on this study that, decreasing sedentary behavior and increasing active leisure activities with friends, may help to promote or 'socialize' more active lifestyles in our children. To the same tune, the online kids social food network, Koodies ( is a place where kids and their parents can form special bonds with peers who share similar interests as well as learn about food, where it comes from, the importance of taking the time to appreciate and prepare meals and of course enjoy food. 
In-store programs for children promoting healthy whole foods would serve as a great way for supermarkets to get involved in healthy eating initiatives and would jumpstart the reversal of the social norms surrounding highly processed and fast food. Teaming up with local elementary schools and running programs in store where kids (soon to be Koodies!) play games to locate certain foods, choose healthy selections and learn about nutrition in a fun social atmosphere seems like a great place to start.