Adolescents' Intake of Junk Food

Processes and Mechanisms Driving Consumption Similarities Among Friends

Published in: Journal of Research on Adolescence, v. 23, no. 3, Sep. 2013, p. 524-536

Posted on RAND.org on September 01, 2013

by Kayla de la Haye, Garry Robins, Philip Mohr, Carlene Wilson

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Research Question

  1. Is adolescents' intake of junk food influenced by what their friends eat?

Adolescents' consumption of low-nutrient, energy-dense (LNED) food often occurs out of home, and friends may be an important source of influence. This study tested whether observed similarities in LNED food intake among friends result from social influence and also explored underlying psychological mechanisms. Three waves of data were collected over 1 year from Grade 8 students in Australia (N = 378, 54% male), including measures of food intake and related cognitions, and friendships to grademates. The results of longitudinal social network models show that adolescent intake was predicted by their friends' intake, accounting for pre-existing similarities and other potentially confounding factors. Changes to adolescents' beliefs about LNED food do not appear to be the mechanisms underpinning influence from their friends.

Key Finding

  • Adolescents' intake of junk food became or remained similar to the intake of their same-grade best friends over the course of the school year.

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