Social media influences us in ways we are only beginning to comprehend. From fashion trends to political commentary, social media touches every aspect of our life. We wear what influencers are wearing. We decide our next holiday destination on the basis of what travel bloggers are recommending. And if a recent study is to be believed, then our eating habits may also be heavily influenced by social media. But what is the extent of this influence and is it all that bad for us?
- Social media users are likely to eat healthy or junk food under the influence of their peer group says a study.
- Social media today governs what we wear, what is cool and what isn’t. Is it a surprise that we are eating under its influence then?
- Do we need to be asking ourselves why are we so keen on eating what social media is telling us?
There is a reason why brands are now roping in social media influencers to do their bidding. Why marketing for food products, just like any other merchandise has moved from print and television to social networking platforms.
According to the study whose results were published by the scientific journal Appetite, social media users are likely to eat healthy or junk food under the influence of their peer group. The researchers found that participants ate an extra fifth of a portion of fruit and vegetables for every portion they thought their social media peers did too. The study has also found that Facebook users eat an extra portion of unhealthy snack foods and sugary drinks for every three portions that they think their online social groups have consumed.
Looking at how rapidly online food trends like avocado on toast and quinoa caught up globally, one doesn’t struggle to believe these findings. There is a reason why brands are now roping in social media influencers to do their bidding. Why marketing for food products, just like any other merchandise has moved from print and television to social networking platforms. However, outside of organised marketing helmed by advertising firms, there is a separate realm of food networking; in the form of social media groups.
I am a part of a couple of Facebook groups for instance, where the conversation is about any and every eatery in Pune. So when an average person in that group tells me that the food at such and such restaurant is good, there are higher chances of me trying that restaurant out, than if a celeb or influencer was endorsing for it. The same can be said for what we eat on a day to day basis. If a person swears that avocado on toast is the healthiest possible breakfast in the world their online peers will have an easier time believing it. If there is a fake message doing rounds on social media that a certain packaged snack has plastic in it, then that message will find its way to a hundred more social networking groups. Don’t we all know someone who gave up eating a certain snack after such rumours began to float about it? That is the damage word of mouth could do in pre-social media era, imagine what a viral message can do today.
Why are we so keen on eating what social media is telling us? This isn’t about awareness regarding health, because as the study tells us, people are likely to eat unhealthy snacks under social media influence too.
The influencer culture has always been alarming, but it is especially so in case of food because here we are giving others the agency to decide what goes into our bodies. We are letting others decide what is healthy for us and what isn’t. How many of us are actually making an effort to verify all the diet fads and healthy food hacks that come our way via the digital medium?
The bigger question though is, why are we so keen on eating what social media is telling us to? This isn’t about awareness regarding health, because as the study tells us, people are likely to eat unhealthy snacks under social media influence too. So then it all comes down to perhaps fitting in; the key trait that defines most of our social media behaviour. We want to fit in, to be part of a group. In our quest to do that we imitate the behaviour and attitude of people we either admire or relate with. Plus, no one likes to be left out of conversations. What is the point of being on a social networking platform, after all, if you cannot interact with others? And to be able to do that you have to tune your bandwidth to that of your peers. Aren’t we all prone to watching shows that our friends rave about, partly out of peer pressure?
The influence that social media has on us can be used to start positive eating trends, conversations on healthy eating, the effect of what you consume on climate, etc. And some nooks and corners of the digital space are indeed having these conversations. However, one needs to ask if you are choosing to eat healthy because of all these conversations, or is it because they have changed your outlook towards food or because it is a trend to eat right?
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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.