A new study shows children between the ages of 2 and 6 ate 30 percent more during an extended snacking session in a group of nine, compared with when they snacked in a smaller group of three children. The study was done by researchers who included Julie C. Lumeng, M.D., from the Center for Human Growth and Development, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Researchers say the sight and sounds of others doing the same thing may encourage kids to eat more. It's a phenomenon previously identified among adults and animals called social facilitation. Researchers say the findings may influence how snacks should be made available to children.
Children who aren't eating enough might be given snacks in larger groups, and those who eat too much should snack in smaller groups.
The study compared how much preschool children aged 2 to 6 ate during a regular snack session in two different settings: when they were seated in a large group of nine children, and when they were in a group of three.
The children were offered their normal snack of one whole graham cracker broken into two squares. Also, for the group of three kids, one plate of additional graham crackers was placed in the center of the table; for the nine kids, there two extra plates — one at each end of the table. The children could help themselves to the extra crackers on the plates.
The researchers measured how much the kids ate and how long they snacked. The results showed children in larger groups ate slightly more when the snacking time was less than 11 minutes. But when snack time was longer than 11 minutes, the children in large groups ate 30 percent more than the children in small groups, regardless of how much longer the snack time was.
Researchers say children in larger groups may have eaten more because they started eating sooner and more quickly. They also spent less time socializing with the other children.
SOURCES: Lumeng, J. Archives of Disease in Childhood, Feb. 14, 2007; advance online edition. News release, BMJ Specialist Journals.
By Jennifer Warner
Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D