Objective: To determine if children’s food consumption is increased by the size of the group of children in which they are eating.
Design: Crossover study.
Setting: University preschool.
Participants: 54 children, ages 2.5-6.5 years.
Interventions: Each child ate a standardized snack in a group of 3 children, and in a group of 9 children.
Main Outcome Measures: Amount each individual child consumed, in grams.
Results: Amount eaten and snack duration were correlated (r = .71). The association between group size and amount eaten differed in the short (< 11.4 minutes) versus the long (> 11.4 minutes) snacks (p = .02 for the interaction of group size and snack duration). During short snacks, there was no effect of group size on amount eaten (16.7 ± SD 11.0 grams eaten in small groups v. 15.1 ± 6.6 grams eaten in large groups, p = .42). During long snacks, large group size increased amount eaten (34.5 ± 16.0 v. 26.5 ± 13.8, p = .02). The group size effect was partially explained by a shorter latency to begin eating, a faster eating rate, and reduced social interaction in larger groups.
Conclusions: Children consumed 30% more food when eating in a group of 9 children than when eating in a group of 3 children during longer snacks. Social facilitation of food consumption operates in preschool- aged children. The group size effect merits consideration in creating eating behavior interventions.
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