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Workers who eat lunch together influence each other’s food choices: study

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Boston — Do you eat lunch with co-workers? The food choices – healthy or unhealthy – of your lunch bunch are very likely to influence your own choices, results of a recent study led by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Massachusetts Amherst show.

Using data from cash registers in seven hospital cafeterias, the researchers identified 3 million occurrences in which pairs of employees purchased food together between 2015 and 2016. The researchers confirmed with more than 1,000 of the employees the names of the people they ate lunch with.

“We found that individuals tend to mirror the food choices of others in their social circles,” study co-author Douglas Levy, researcher at the Mongan Institute Health Policy Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a press release, “which may explain one way obesity spreads through social networks.”

The researchers speculate that peer pressure might explain at least some of this phenomenon. “People may change their behavior to cement the relationship with someone in their social circle,” Levy said.

One potential strategy, the release notes, is targeted interventions for pairs of co-workers. One example is a two-for-one sale on salads or other healthy foods.

 

“As we emerge from the pandemic and transition back to in-person work, we have an opportunity to eat together in a more healthful way than we did before,” study co-author Mark Pachucki, associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Computational Social Science Institute, said in the release. “If your eating habits shape how your co-workers eat – even just a little – then changing your food choices for the better might benefit your co-workers as well.”

The study was published online April 22 in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

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