Social connections and the healthfulness of food choices in an employee population

Nat Hum Behav. 2021 Oct;5(10):1349-1357. doi: 10.1038/s41562-021-01103-x. Epub 2021 Apr 22.


Unhealthy food choice is an important driver of obesity, but research examining the relationship of food choices and social influence has been limited. We sought to assess associations in the healthfulness of workplace food choices among a large population of diverse employees whose food-related social connections were identified using passively collected data in a validated model. Data were drawn from 3 million encounters where pairs of employees made purchases together in 2015-2016. The healthfulness of food items was defined by 'traffic light' labels. Cross-sectional simultaneously autoregressive models revealed that proportions of both healthy and unhealthy items purchased were positively associated between connected employees. Longitudinal generalized estimating equation models also found positive associations between an employee's current food purchase and the most recent previous food purchase a coworker made together with the employee. These data indicate that workplace interventions to promote healthy eating and reduce obesity should test peer-based strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Behavioral Research
  • Choice Behavior
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet, Healthy / psychology
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Peer Influence*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Workplace / psychology*