A Naturalistic Study of Social Influences on Meal Size among Moderately Obese and Nonobese Subjects

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The present study examined the amount of food chosen by moderately obese and nonobese customers in a university cafeteria as a function of whether they were about to eat alone or were explicitly accompanied by others during lunch. It was hypothesized that many overweight individuals are self-conscious about eating due to perceived social pressures, and that obese people would therefore choose less food (i.e., suppress intake) when eating with others than when alone. Food selections of a matched sample of overweight and nonobese individuals were recorded, and subjects were observed as they took a seat to determine if they ate alone or with others. Caloric values of foods chosen for each meal were computed. Results for the number of calories indicated that, as predicted, overweight subjects purchased less food when accompanied than when alone. Nonobese individuals, by contrast, chose more food when with others than when alone. In addition, males chose more food than females and obese subjects chose more than normals. Results were discussed in terms of the impact of social variables on eating behavior, and the theoretical importance of weight consciousness and pereceived social pressures in understanding correlates of obesity. Several alternative explanations were addressed.

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