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Size of dining partner influences portion size

August 24, 2009 |  2:06 pm

Dining What you choose to eat may be influenced by who you're eating with, according to new research. The study found that people tend to eat an amount of food that is similar to the portion consumed by the person they're dining with. Dining with someone who is thin but who eats a lot of food, in particular, may cause you to overeat.

The study involved 210 college students who were recruited for what they thought was a study on movie watching. They were paired with a fellow student who was actually a researcher involved in the study. The researchers were either naturally small (average weight of 105 pounds) or wore padding to appear obese (about 180 pounds). The student and fake-student/researcher were offered snacks to enjoy during the movie. The researcher was offered food first and took either a small or large amount of food. The student was then offered food.

The study found that the student usually took an amount of food similar to what their partner took, regardless of the researcher's size. However, the size of the dining partner mattered, somewhat. When the researcher was obese, the students tended to adjust their food intake somewhat. However, when the researcher was thin, the student tended to mimic the researcher's eating pattern.

"We show that it is not simply eating with heavy people that makes you eat more (or less); it depends on what these other consumers choose," the authors wrote. ". . .in many cases the most dangerous people to eat with are not those who are overweight, but those who are thin but are heavy eaters."

The study was conducted by researchers at Duke University, the University of British Columbia and Arizona State University. It will be published online this week in the Journal of Consumer Research.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Lori Shepler  /  Los Angeles Times