Bevelander, K. E., Anschütz, D. J., & Engels, R. C. M. E. (2012). The effect of a fictitious peer on young children’s choice of familiar versus unfamiliar low and high energy-dense foods. British Journal of Nutrition, 108(6), 1126-1133. DOI: 10.1017/S0007114511006374

The present experimental study was the first to investigate the impact of a remote (non-existent) peer on children’s food choice of familiar v. unfamiliar low- and high-energy-dense food products. In a computer task, children (n 316; 50•3 % boys; mean age 7•13 (sd 0•75) years) were asked to choose between pictures of familiar and unfamiliar foods in four different choice blocks using the following pairs: (1) familiar v. unfamiliar low-energy-dense foods (fruits and vegetables), (2) familiar v. unfamiliar high-energy-dense foods (high sugar, salt and/or fat content), (3) familiar low-energy-dense v. unfamiliar high-energy-dense foods and (4) unfamiliar low-energy-dense v. familiar high-energy-dense foods. Participants who were not in the control group were exposed to the food choices (either always the familiar or always the unfamiliar food product) of a same-sex and same-age fictitious peer who was supposedly completing the same task at another school. The present study provided insights into children’s choices between (un)familiar low- and high-energy-dense foods in an everyday situation. The findings revealed that the use of fictitious peers increased children’s willingness to try unfamiliar foods, although children tended to choose high-energy-dense foods over low-energy-dense foods. Intervention programmes that use peer influence to focus on improving children’s choice of healthy foods should take into account children’s strong aversion to unfamiliar low-energy-dense foods as well as their general preference for familiar and unfamiliar high-energy-dense foods.