Children snacking in big groups eat almost a third more than when snacking with a couple of mates, reveals research published ahead of print in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
The researchers analysed the eating behaviour of 54 children between the ages of 2? and 6? when they were in a group of nine children and when they were in a group of three.
AdvertisementEach child was given a standard snack, and the amount consumed on each occasion was weighed. The time taken to eat it was also assessed. The observations took place in the classroom, supervised by teachers.
Children ate slightly more in the larger groups when the snacking time was less than 11 minutes.
But when snacking went on for longer, children in the larger groups ate 30% more than children eating in small groups, irrespective of the time they took over their snacks.
The fact that children ate more in larger groups is at least partly explained by their starting to eat sooner and more quickly in these circumstances. They also spent less time socialising with the other children.
The pattern of eating more in larger groups than when eating alone, is common among adults and animals, say the researchers.
Termed "social facilitation," the phenomenon stems from the stimuli provided by the sight and sound of others engaged in the same behaviour. It overrides the brain's normal signals of satiety.
The researchers suggest that children who eat too little might fare better eating with the family and/or friends at home. And children who already eat too much should keep away from fast food restaurants, where the busy and chaotic environment might stimulate them further to eat even more.