Wow! Science has not just revealed the unthinkable but rather proven what has been long suspected, that food envy, what the Yorubas’ call “ojukokoro” is actually real.
You’re out for dinner with your friends and have decided to stick to a light salad and maybe water. Your friend on the other hand, has decided to take something more indulgent, and all of a sudden you are interested and all your good intentions have gone out the window and then you decided to order what she/he orders.
We’ve all been there, but while we’ve long described those feelings of jealousy over others’ choice of dish as “food envy”, a new study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, has found that dining companion could sabotage your healthy diet
The research revealed people make healthy and unhealthy decisions depending on what other people around them are eating.
The research also showed that people are more likely to mirror food choices of close friends, but even sitting and eating with a casual acquaintance can have an impact on how both people eat.
In order for the researchers to shed more light to the point, they examined 6,000 employees of an American hospital making three million encounters between pairs over two years.
They collected data on food purchases, taking note of when and who the person was with at the time they made their decisions.
Results revealed that people who knew each other were consistently more alike in their food options than they were different.
More noticeably, they found some employees made healthier choices on days they sat with co-workers who regularly ate well.
One point to bear in mind, is that it may not be possible to determine if friends choose one another based on common interests or whether one person’s interests are the result of a friend’s influence, according to Dr Douglas Levy, associate professor of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“We found that individuals tend to mirror the food choices of others in their social circles, which may explain one way obesity spreads through social networks,” he explains.
“We controlled characteristics that people had in common and analysed the data from numerous perspectives, consistently finding results that supported social influence rather than homophily [the tendency for people to seek out those who are similar to themselves] explanations.”
Peer pressure could be one explanation for the phenomenon.
“People may change their behaviour to cement the relationship with someone in their social circle,” Dr Levy added.
“Co-workers may also implicitly or explicitly give each other license to choose unhealthy foods or exert pressure to make a healthier choice.”
Professor Mark Pachucki, of the University of Massachusetts, added: “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.
“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 follows a previous poll revealing Brits suffer from food envy once a week – with cheesy garlic bread, pizza and cheesecake.