Why Influencers Could Change the Way We Eat

I remember when I was at university, smoking was cool.

Binge drinking too.

Hanging out at the student union all day drinking cheap beer, then going to smoke-filled flats and shared houses to listen to punk records.

Even the ‘healthier’ sporty groups (rugby players like me) would hit it hard in the bar afterwards.

It was part of the culture – and those who didn’t want to do that stuff formed a smaller group, comparatively.

Today it is a little different.

My kids report that there are far more ‘straight edge’ students than ever before, who don’t drink to excess or don’t drink at all.

Smoking isn’t cool anymore, though vaping is (with its own problems!)

The culture has changed.

I’m not saying this to judge the drinking prowess of my generation or this latest one coming through – it’s to make a point about food.
Could Food Culture Make a Difference our Health Crises?

Our dominant food cultures also have a huge influence on what we eat, and therefore the state of our health.

This was illuminated by very recent research from Flinders University, published earlier this month.

It revealed how our food choices are conditioned by the society around us and the cultural norms of our tribe, social group or community.

In the study, they took a group of undergraduate students, each with unique backgrounds and preferences, and presented them with various food options.

Some of these foods were healthy, others were not.

The study found that the students were significantly more likely to choose healthier foods if those options were promoted by members of a group they identified with, such as their university peers.

This goes to show that we have a psychological urge to conform to perceived norms so that we can maintain a sense of belonging.

When we feel connected to a social group, we adopt the behaviours endorsed by that group.

If junk food, processed food, energy drinks and sugary treats are the dominant ‘norm’, it legitimises them, even when there is evidence piling up about how dangerous they can be.

This study opens up possibilities for how we can promote healthier eating habits on a broader scale.

Because it’s not just about an individual’s willpower or nutritional education. It’s the cultural landscape in which they make their food choices.

If we can change that cultural landscape, we could potentially create an environment where healthy eating is the norm, not the exception.

Imagine social media influencers used their platforms to promote healthy eating, not just as a good choice, but as the cool and accepted choice within their community.

And imagine if all workplaces, schools, and community centres celebrated healthy eating.

The ripple effects could be transformative.

I don’t know how to start such a revolution, other than to carry on writing these letters to you.

But it’s worth thinking about how we are all influenced by what we read, hear and see around us every day.