School-aged children spend a substantial amount of time interacting with other children. Recent work has suggested that peers and friends influence children’s eating attitudes and behaviours, but it is unclear whether there are any differences between the effect that friends versus peers may have on children’s eating. The research presented considers the effect of groups of friends and groups of peers on preadolescent children’s food intake. Following their school lunch, children aged 8–9 years were offered free access to two energy dense foods (chocolate cookies and crisps) and two nutrient dense foods (carrot sticks and apple pieces) whilst completing a game task. On one occasion children played and ate with a group of friends, on the other with a group of familiar peers. Gender differences in consumption were observed. For boys, there were significant differences in the consumption of both of the nutrient dense foods, with boys consuming more carrots and apples when with their friends, compared to with their peers. For girls, there was a significant difference in consumption for carrots only, such that girls consumed more carrots when in the presence of friends, compared to peers. In terms of overall consumption levels, boys consumed significantly more when with their friends, compared to with their peers. The same was not found for girls. The results provide some evidence that social context (being in the presence of friends or peers) and gender may have a differential impact on consumption in preadolescent children.
Special section: The 37th Annual Meeting of the British Feeding and Drinking Group, April 4th-5th 2013, Loughborough, UK