Would you like some fries with your social media?

As we enter the season of feasting, a University of Auckland researcher is investigating how social media influences the food choices of young adults year-round.

From the artfully arranged dinner plate close-up to the mouth-watering Uber Eats post, food saturates social media. As the heaviest users of social media, young adults are exposed to an unknown volume of food-related posts every day. Saswata Ray, a PhD student at the University of Auckland, wondered what influence that could be having on what they eat.

When Mr Ray looked at existing research, he realised that very few studies had been done in this area, and only narrowly focused ones.
Working with his supervisors in the University’s School of Population Health, Dr Sarah Gerritsen and Dr Karen Day, Mr Ray carried out 15 in-depth, face-to-face interviews with young adults exploring issues around food in their social media use.

He then designed an online questionnaire and is seeking 430 New Zealanders aged 18-25 to complete the survey.

Given that young adults are the highest users of social media, it’s really important to find out if social media is playing a role in their food-related decisions.

Saswata Ray

“Food is one of the major determinants of health across any age group,” says Mr Ray. “The rising obesity rate is a major issue, and food plays a role in many other non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease and certain types of cancer. Given that young adults are the highest users of social media, it’s really important to find out if social media is playing a role in their food-related decisions.”

The study will look at the effect of food-related information found in social media; social media food influencers and bloggers; aspects of social media food marketing; and online food ordering (e.g. Uber Eats). They’ll also investigate whether attractive-looking food pictures trigger hunger.

Mr Ray: “I’m also interested in young adults’ own critical awareness of the influence of food-related social media. What intentions do young adults have behind posting food-related images?”

As far as he knows, this is the first nationwide survey of its kind in the world.

To find out more, read the study page on the University of Auckland website.  

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