Kids in Packs Eat More
By Vivian Richardson, Ivanhoe Health Correspondent
ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- What do rats, chickens and children have in common? Apparently, they may all be hardwired by nature to eat more when in large groups.
Researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor compared how kids between ages 2 and 6 ate snacks when in groups of three and groups of nine. Children in larger groups starting eating sooner and more quickly than children in smaller groups.
"When they sit down at the table, they don't dilly-dally; they start eating right away," researcher Julie Lumeng, M.D., told Ivanhoe. When snack time lasted more than 11 minutes, children in the larger groups at 30 percent more food than children in the smaller groups.
Dr. Lumeng explained it might be an instinctual reaction for young children to eat more food faster when stimulated by the presence of other children. Researchers have seen the same behavior in animals. "People hypothesize if you're an animal and you're eating your food with a bunch of other animals around you, you may be hardwired to eat faster and be a little more frenzied in your eating because you don't want the other animals to get your food," she said. The children included in this study came from middle class families, and there was more than enough food on the table, so hunger or competition doesn't really explain the behavior, Dr. Lumeng said.
Previous studies have also shown adults eat more when in large groups. Dr. Lumeng said this behavior has more to do with socializing than animal instinct. "Because you're sitting chatting with other people, you're sitting there at the table where the food is longer, and basically you nibble more," she said. In her study, however, Dr. Lumeng reported children actually socialized less when in larger groups.
"What I think this study points out is that eating behavior is entrenched in a lot of biologically driven predispositions. Your eating behavior is not totally under your own control," Dr. Lumeng said. The results of this study may be something to consider, as leaders look for ways to reduce childhood obesity, though Dr. Lumeng explained the effect of eating in large groups cannot be conclusively linked to obesity.
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SOURCE: Ivanhoe interview with Julie Lumeng, M.D.; Archives of Disease in Childhood, published online Feb. 14, 2007