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Updated 10:00 AM March 5, 2007




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Study: Children who snack in large groups tend to eat more

Children in big groups eat almost a third more than when snacking with a couple of youngsters, say researchers from C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

The researchers analyzed the eating behaviors of 54 children between the ages of 2-1/2 and 6-1/2 when they were in a group of nine children and when 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 also was assessed. The observations took place in the classroom supervised by teachers.

The result: Children ate slightly more in the larger groups when the snacking time was less than 11 minutes. But when snacking went on longer, children in the larger groups ate 30 percent more than those in small groups, irrespective of the time they took to eat their snacks, says study lead author Dr. Julie Lumeng, assistant research scientist at the Center for Human Growth and Development.

The fact that children ate more in larger groups at least partly is 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, researchers say.

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.

This study was supported by the American Heart Association Fellow-to-Faculty Transition Award. It is published in the online edition of Archives of Disease in Childhood.

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