The paper published in the journal of Eating Behaviors looked into how these factors impacted purchasing decisions on ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ snacks.
Findings showed that teens were likelier to buy healthy snacks when unhealthy products were taxed rather than when there were price reductions on healthier products.
However, young people were more likely to purchase discounted healthy snacks when with peers.
Power of peers
While price is a clear influence in purchasing decisions, the researchers said “for adolescents, another powerful influence on food selection and food consumption is the social context”.
“In this study, adolescents may have been more sensitive to the decrease in price of healthier foods, leading them to alter their purchases in front of their peers as a means of conveying an image of healthier eating,” they said.
The study cites previous research that found overweight youths consumed 400 kcal more when alone than when with peers.
The study involved 37 adolescents aged 12-14, split into underweight, healthy weight and overweight categories according to their Body Mass Index (BMI) – below the 5th percentile being underweight and in the 85th to 95th percentile overweight.
Male and female adolescents purchased snacks in a simulated convenience store alone in one experiment and in the presence of an unfamiliar same-aged peer in another.
To distinguish between ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ snacks, a calories-for-nutrients (CFN) score was computed for each food. CFN is an index of the number of calories needed to obtain an additional 1% of the recommended daily values of 13 key nutrients.
Low-calorie foods available for purchase were: apple, banana, orange, Dole diced peaches, Sorrento cheese stick, JELL-O fat-free chocolate pudding, and Special K bar.
High calorie for nutrient snack foods were: Lay’s potato chips, Doritos, Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, Hershey’s chocolate bar, Starburst fruit chews, M&Ms chocolate candies and Rice Krispies Treats.
Source: Journal of Eating Behaviors
Vol. 13, Iss. 3, p. 233-239, August 2012
“Peer influence on youth’s snack purchases: A laboratory analog of convenience store shopping”
Authors: S. Salvy, MA. Kluczynski, LA. Nitecki, BC. O’Connor