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Eat Healthier by Bringing A Healthy Friend

Update Date: Oct 24, 2013 09:32 AM EDT

One of the hardest reasons why people have a difficult time losing or maintaining weight is food temptation. Several studies have found that eating good food can be extremely pleasurable and for some people, highly addictive. Due to the global obesity epidemic, governments and organizations have worked hard to find different ways to motivate people to get active and eat healthy. In a new study, researchers are reporting that bringing a health-conscious friend to dinner might positively influence one's eating choices.

For this study, the researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I) and Oklahoma State University examined the role of the environment on people's eating habits. The researchers gathered their data with the help of a restaurant located in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The restaurant had agreed to use the researchers' three menus for three months. The first group of customers received the restaurant's original menu and acted as the control group. The second group was given menus with calorie counts and the third group of eaters was given menus with calorie counts and menus with traffic lights that indicated calorie ranges. The traffic symbols included a green light for food options that were 400 calories or less, a yellow light for food options 401 calories to 800 and a red light for options over 800 calories.

The researchers analyzed the receipts provided from the restaurant. They found that the environment, ranging from dinner company to menu type, affected one's choice of food. For example, the researchers noted that people who ate in a group and were given menus with traffic light symbols were more likely to pick healthier food options. The researchers reasoned that indirect peer pressure might be the cause of the trend.

"The big takeaway from this research is that people were happier if they were making similar choices to those sitting around them," study author Brenna Ellison, an economist at the U of I, said according to TIME. "If my peers are ordering higher-calorie items or spending more money, then I am also happier, or at least less unhappy, if I order higher-calorie foods and spend more money."

The team then analyzed satisfaction based on a model they created. They concluded that individuals were most likely satisfied with their food option especially if their friend chose the same plate or something similar.

The study was presented at the Agricultural and Applied Economic Association's 2013 annual meeting taking place in Washington D.C.

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