Social Network Concordance in Food Choice Among Spouses, Friends, and Siblings

Who we eat with influences how much and what kinds of food we consume, and varies among different kinds of relationships.

Researchers examined data on food choices and social ties for participants in the Framingham Heart Study three times during 10 years (1991–2001). Associations were made between the cohort member (ego) and “alters”—a spouse, friend, brother or sister. Seven types of food patterns were identified by shorthand as: (1) meat and soda; (2) sweets; (3) alcohol and snacks; (4) light eaters; (5) caffeine-avoidant; (6) offsetting; and (7) healthier.

With few exceptions, food pattern correlations were most concordant among spouses and friends. Spouses highly correlated on alcohol and snacks. Friends correlated on alcohol and snacks, and healthier patterns. Brothers were most highly correlated on meat and soda, alcohol and snacks, and healthier; sisters correlated on the healthier pattern.

Additionally, what a socially connected peer ate at a previous point of time predicted a concordant current eating pattern, evidence of a social influence process at work.

Knowing that our eating patterns are similar to those with whom we are socially connected “contributes to the perspective—increasingly more supported in the public health field—that when people are connected, their health is connected,” the researchers write.