School of Social Ecology, University of California Irvine, Irvine, CA, 92697, USA; Clinical Nutrition Research Centre, Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), 117599, Singapore. Electronic address: [Email]
Children have been found to rely on others for food choice and food intake cues, but it is unclear whether a similar type of social modeling occurs for food portion selection, especially among young children. Given that portion size predicts energy intake, it is important to understand the role of social influence on portion selection behavior early in life. The present study aimed to determine preschoolers' conformity to food portion selection patterns of remote peers using a computerized Portion Selection Task and examined the role of parents' feeding styles in children's susceptibility to others' food portion choices. Seventy-five 3-6 year old Singaporean children (M = 62 ± 0.72 months) were asked to make food portion selections of high-energy-density (ED) foods and low-ED foods both independently and after having viewed remote peers' portion selections of the same foods. In the unhealthy peers condition, children saw peers choose large portions of high-ED foods and small portions of low-ED foods, while in the healthy peers condition, children saw peers select large portions of low-ED foods and small portions of high-ED foods. Parents were surveyed about their child feeding practices. Results revealed that participants exhibited conformity to the portion sizes of remote peers for both high-ED and low-ED foods under the healthy peers condition, but only marginally for high-ED foods under the unhealthy peers condition. Parents' higher restriction of foods for child's health was marginally associated with lower conformity to peers' portion selections of unhealthy foods and higher conformity to peers' portion selections of healthy foods. This study provides support for social modeling of food portion selection among young children, but the extent of social modeling may be contingent on characteristics of the food.