A research team lead by Elliston confirms that when we see others eating/snacking, we are more likely to eat/snack ourselves. Since many members of society are trying to get/stay slim, the findings from Elliston’s group complicates the development of spaces such as open plan homes and at-work break/dining areas. Casual interactions can lead to social bonds among employees, for example, and centrally located break areas that are visually accessible to large groups of people are common. That visibility may undermine employee health and wellbeing since people are more likely to eat/snack when they see others doing so. Visually separating “eaters” from coffee drinkers and other “non-eaters” would help concerned individuals maintain a healthy diet, but could prove socially awkward. Given the limited number of square feet likely available for break/eating areas, these sorts of segmented spaces might also be difficult to design. The Elliston team also reports that “Having snacks available and easily accessible [as they are in many workplaces] was associated with an increased likelihood of snacking. Exposure to food cues increases individuals' motivation to eat and subsequently the likelihood of their eating. . . . Reducing the availability of snacks from specific environments, such as in the home or office, is likely to weaken the temptation to snack.”
Katherine Elliston, Stuart Ferguson, and Benjamin Schuz. “Personal and Situational Predictors of Everyday Snacking: An Application of Temporal Self-Regulation Theory.” British Journal of Health Psychology, in press.