Eating In Groups May Cause Overeating

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses research that shows how different environments impact eating.

Socializing has been found to be good for a person’s health, but that may not be the case when it comes to eating in groups. New research shows that you may be more likely to eat more when others are around. Especially if you are eating with overweight people.

Published in Appetite, the study was co-authored by Katie Johnson of Mayo Medical School and Brian Wanskin, PhD director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab. The study used 82 undergrad students, as well as an actress. The students were assigned one of the following four scenarios during the study:

  • An actress served herself more pasta and less salad wearing a 50 lb prosthesis. The students then served themselves a combination of the two.
  • The actress served herself more salad and less pasta wearing the prosthesis. The students again served themselves after watching this.
  • The actress served herself more healthful meal of more salad less pasta without the prosthesis. Students then served themselves a meal.
  • She served herself less healthful options of more pasta and less salad. After, the students served themselves food.

The students were found to eat less healthy while in the presence of the actress as she appeared overweight. When the actress was wearing the prosthesis during both healthful and non-healthful options, students served themselves 31.6% more pasta. Additionally, when she was wearing the prosthesis appearing overweight and served herself salad, students ate 43.5% less salad!

The findings show that people who eat around overweight people may consume larger portions of unhealthy foods at meals and smaller amounts of healthy foods. The researchers suspect it is because people are less in tune with their health goals while in the presence of overweight people. What can be done to reduce this?

The researchers believe it is an easy fix. They suggest you assess your hunger prior to going out to a restaurant, and plan meals accordingly. This can be done by looking up the menu of a restaurant prior to going out, and compare it to dietary guidelines. You may also want to be aware of the people who are dining around you.

Could this study be one of the key findings to obesity, particularly in children? It’s uncertain, but obese children are around other obese children while at school, and often times at home. This could give some insight into eating patterns which may contribute to obesity creation.

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