Eating What the Cool Kids Eat: Associations Between Popularity, Snack Preferences and Snack Choices
L.M. König1, H. Giese1, D. Taut2, H. Ollila3, A. Baban2, P. Absetz3, H. Schupp1, B. Renner1
1University of Konstanz, Germany
2Babes-Bolyai University, Romania
3National Institute for Health and Welfare
Background: Associating popularity with certain food items is a technique used in advertising. This raises the question (1) whether children associate unhealthy foods with a peer’s popularity status and, (2) whether this is related to their own preferences and consumption behavior. Methods: Snack preferences and consumption of 2.837 children and adolescents from Finland, Germany and Romania were assessed. In a forced-choice vignettes format, they indicated the preferred snack choices (e.g., muffin vs. apple) for a popular and an unpopular peer. Findings: Path models showed a significant association between the perceived snack preference ascribed to popular and unpopular peers and their own snack preference, indicating a symbolic preference effect: the more popularity was associated with unhealthy snacking the more children preferred unhealthy snacks themselves (?s > |.136|, p < .001) which in turn was associated with greater snack consumption (? = .441, p < .001). Discussion: The results suggest an implicit mode for triggering food preferences through social incentives: cool kids can make food more socially rewarding. Practical implications for interventions will be discussed.