Does Social Media Influence What You Eat?
The rise of social media as a marketing tool has given birth to a whole new set of questions about what exactly influences what we eat. The truth is that it is difficult to answer these questions because the effect of social media on consumer behavior is so varied and complex. It is not clear whether it simply influences the way we think about food, or whether it influences our consumption habits as well as how we process that consumption. However, one thing is clear: food and Internet use is closely linked.
Case in point: people nowadays line up in long lines to purchase the hottest food or drink online, people lining up hours in some cases just to get early access to the newest fad! These are just a few examples of how food trends can spread through social media in a matter of hours as people share them with friends and relatives all over the globe. How do they do this? They research trends and then buy in bulk, or in packages that are pre-built for them at certain times of the year. Brands that have a strong online following can easily outpace their competitors because they are able to promote their goods earlier in the season when there are limited quantities and discounts available.
In fact, this form of influence works in tandem with scientific studies on public health. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research shows that people who check social norms regularly are more likely to adhere to certain food safety behaviors, such as using disposable plates and spoons and taking precaution when handling food to avoid contamination. What this means is that if a person who follows social norms is observed to consume certain foods while others do not, he or she is most likely to adhere to food safety practices. Of course, the degree to which this actually influences their behavior is highly debated among scientists, but it is clear that the act of making a decision to purchase certain foods early is what influences the consumer's behavior.
Another study from the University of Minnesota shows that the way you consume your calories can also greatly impact your health. Those who are fond of eating junk food are more prone to gain weight and become obese than those who eat balanced diets. This trend was studied in relation to other factors, such as gender and race, but the takeaway was a surprising factor in the equation. People who eat fast food at least three times a week are more likely to have unhealthy eating habits than those who eat a balanced diet.
This effect has its roots in the way that the human brain perceives and remembers things. When we are exposed to many visual stimuli, our brains tend to categorize them into separate categories. The study found that when participants were shown a list of common fruits and vegetables, they tended to choose more of the fruits and vegetables that they had already seen than those that were not on the list. This suggests that the visual stimulation of the social media sites might be influencing how people choose to eat.
While these studies cannot prove that social norms directly influence eating habits, they do suggest that we can expect certain things to go around in our food culture. If you are influenced by social norms and want to change your eating habits, then you may be able to make an impact on your health by using other methods to do so. It is unlikely that a government mandate will persuade all Americans to change their eating habits dramatically overnight. Changing one's eating habits begins slowly with healthy fruits and vegetables, coupled with regular exercise. This combination can provide the necessary momentum to improve overall health, as well as curb excess weight.