People choose healthier foods around strangers for fear of being judged negatively

People from different social groups are more likely to choose a healthy diet than an unhealthy diet because they fear being judged negatively for their choices.

A new study co-authored by Bayes Business School has found that the presence of people from different friend or social groups plays a role in influencing consumers’ food choices.

The study, which examined dietary habits with people of a different race and university, explains that this happens because individuals expect more negative judgment from strangers. The study, which spoke to about 1,000 people in total, shows that people often self-categorize based on race, college affiliation and occupation.

Experiments involving several hundred adults in a major city and university in the United States showed that in the presence of an observer of a different race (as opposed to the same race) or from a different university, participants were more likely to choose a healthy snack (as opposed to their own University). In fact, they expected a more negative judgment from an outside group, so they attempted to mitigate those judgments by making healthier dietary choices.

Four separate experiments supported the authors’ view that the presence of a stranger from a different social group (compared to a stranger from their own group—such as their own university) had an impact on participants’ food choices.

In one experiment, 180 college students were given a choice between tasty M&Ms and healthier raisins as a snack. When faced with an unfamiliar classmate from their own college, only 12% of the students chose the healthiest raisins. However, that number more than doubled to 31% in the presence of an unknown student from another university.

The other experiments indicated that the reason for this pattern is that people feel judged to a greater extent by outgroup members and they strategically choose healthy foods to make a positive impression to counteract this negative judgment. For example, 200 consumers were told that others around them were judgmental or tolerant. In the evaluation environment, consumers were more likely to choose carrots than in the tolerance environment, suggesting that the evaluation expected by others explains the results.

Last month, the Action on Sugar and Obesity Health Alliance called on the UK government to take action on the disparity in sugar content and portion sizes of popular snack foods. Despite many attempts to help consumers make healthier choices, consumers often struggle to eat healthily. This research shows that one way to promote healthy eating could be by raising awareness of the social benefits of healthy choices.

dr Janina Steinmetz, associate professor (reader) of marketing at Bayes, said the findings have practical implications for healthy food marketers and policymakers hoping to promote healthy eating.

“We know that food plays an important role in societal life and consumers often make inferences about the characteristics and characteristics of others based on their food choices.

“Our research shows that by emphasizing that healthy eating is not only good for consumers, but also helps them to impress others, we can capitalize on this important role of food in consumer well-being. These findings could be very important for those hoping to improve healthy eating. Practices in the UK because they open up a new way to promote the benefits of healthy eating: it’s good for you and your health, and it’s also good for making a good impression. »

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Materials provided by City University of London. Originally written by Luke Lambert. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.

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