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February 14, 2007

Kids who snack in large groups tend to eat more

ANN ARBOR, MI – Children snacking in big groups eat almost a third more than when snacking with a couple of kids, say researchers from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. The study is published ahead of print in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Julie C. Lumeng, M.D.The researchers analyzed the eating behavior of 54 children between the ages of 2½ and 6½ when they were in a group of nine children and when they were in a group of three.

Each 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 percent more than children eating in small groups, irrespective of the time they took over their snacks, says lead author Julie C. Lumeng, M.D., assistant research scientist at the U-M Center for Human Growth and Development.

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 socializing 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 behavior. 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.

To view the complete study paper, visit the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

This study was supported by the American Heart Association Fellow-to-Faculty Transition Award 0275040N to Lumeng.  

Written by the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Written by Krista Hopson

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