Professor Suzanne Higgs from the University of Birmingham, together with Professor Jeff Brunstrom from the University of Bristol and Associate Professor Lenny Vartanian from the University of New South Wales, Australia, have been awarded an ESRC Grant worth £500K for a project that aims to understand how eating with other people affects appetite.

There are many aspects of the current eating environment that may promote overconsumption of food, such as the recent trend towards food products being available in large portion sizes and the omnipresence of tasty foods. Another potentially important factor is the social context in which eating occurs; it has been observed that eating in a group of friends or family increases consumption of that meal by around 70%. Researchers are only beginning to understand how and why who we eat with affects our food choices and there has been no investigation of whether this ‘social facilitation’ of eating results in increased cumulative energy intake over time.

The University of Birmingham has partnered with Weight Watchers to understand why social facilitation of eating occurs and whether the increase in intake is compensated for in the longer term. The results will help us understand why who we eat with affects appetite and how social facilitation of eating may be avoided or mitigated.