Dr Suzanne Higgs (Reader in the Psychobiology of Appetite) has been awarded £333,000 by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to fund research on the use of social norms to promote healthy eating.

Food choices

Social norms are group patterns of accepted behaviour. It is a social norm that people eat food whilst sitting down (not standing) in a restaurant. Our research has shown that social norms about the eating habits of other people might be used to promote healthier eating.

We have found that informing students that their peers are actually eating small amounts of junk food reduces junk food choices. Similarly, informing students that their peers eat more fruit and vegetables than they might think prompts healthier food intake. We will test whether this approach can be adapted to help individuals make more healthy food selections when purchasing food in a cafeteria or a supermarket. Lead researcher on the project Jason Thomas said “Social norms have potential as a new and exciting approach to encouraging healthier eating”.