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Eat Behav. 2008 Apr;9(2):190-6. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2007.08.001. Epub 2007 Aug 19.

Effects of social context on overweight and normal-weight children's food selection.

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Department of Pediatrics, Division of Behavioral Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo, New York 14214-3000, USA.


Although most eating occurs in a social context, the impact of peer influence on child food consumption and selection of healthy and unhealthy snacks has not been the object of systematic experimental study. The present experiment assessed the effects of peer interaction on energy intake and food choices in 18 overweight and 21 non-overweight youth. Participants had access to high and low-calorie food items and were provided with several games as alternatives to eating. On one occasion, participants were tested alone and on another occasion they were tested in dyads with an unfamiliar peer. Consistent with previous results, we found that overweight children ate substantially more when alone than when in the presence of a peer and also more when alone than the lean children in the same condition. Non-overweight youths' food intake was unaffected by the social context. Findings also indicated that the best predictor of whether participants consumed healthy snack foods was if the other youth in the dyad also consumed healthy snack foods. These findings suggest that the presence of peers can influence overweight children's energy intake and also influence healthier food selection in both overweight and non-overweight children.

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