Can social media be used to increase fruit and vegetable consumption? A pilot intervention study

Lily Hawkins*, Claire Farrow, Meshach Clayton, Jason M Thomas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Exposure to social norms about fruit and vegetable intake has been shown to increase individuals' consumption of these foods. Further, exposure to socially endorsed 'healthy' food posts can increase consumption of low energy-dense (LED), relative to high energy-dense (HED) foods. The current pilot study aimed to investigate whether exposure to healthy eating (vs. control) social media accounts can shift normative perceptions about what others eat, eating intentions and self-reported food consumption.

METHODS: In a 2 (condition) × 2 (type of food consumed) mixed factorial design, 52 male and female students were asked to follow either healthy eating (intervention) or interior design (control) Instagram accounts over a two-week period. Baseline and post-intervention measures assessed normative perceptions of Instagram users' consumption of fruit and vegetables (LED foods), and energy dense snacks and sugar sweetened beverages (HED foods). Participants' intentions to consume, and self-reported consumption of these foods, were also measured.

RESULTS: There were no significant changes in perceptions about what others eat, or participants' own eating intentions ( ps > 0.05). However, the intervention increased participants' self-reported consumption of LED foods by 1.37 servings (per day) and decreased consumption of HED foods by 0.81 items (per day), compared to the control condition ( ps < 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: This novel pilot study demonstrates that a social norm-based social media intervention can successfully encourage healthier eating, with a large effect after two weeks. Certain social media platforms may therefore provide a viable tool for nudging healthy eating. Future work will aim to replicate these findings in a larger and more diverse sample.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalDigital Health
Early online date24 Apr 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Copyright © The Author(s) 2024. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.
org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is
attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page


  • fruit
  • Social media
  • food consumption
  • vegetables
  • healthy eating
  • social norms


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