The effectiveness of a social media intervention for reducing portion sizes in young adults and adolescents

Maxine A. Sharps, Marion M. Hetherington, Pam Blundell-Birtill, Barbara J. Rolls, Charlotte E.L. Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Objective: Adolescents and young adults select larger portions of energy-dense food than recommended. The majority of young people have a social media profile, and peer influence on social media may moderate the size of portions selected. Methods: Two pilot interventions examined whether exposure to images of peers’ portions of high-energy-dense (HED) snacks and sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) on social media (Instagram) would influence reported desired portions selected on a survey. Confederate peers posted ‘their’ portions of HED snacks and SSBs on Instagram. At baseline and intervention end participants completed surveys that assessed desired portion sizes. Results: In intervention 1, undergraduate students (n = 20, mean age=19.0 years, SD=0.65) participated in a two-week intervention in a within-subjects design. Participants reported smaller desired portions of HED snacks and SSBs following the intervention, and smaller desired portions of HED snacks for their peers. In intervention 2, adolescents (n = 44, mean age = 14.4 years, SD = 1.06) participated in a four-week intervention (n = 23) or control condition (n = 21) in a between-subjects design. Intervention 2 did not influence adolescents to reduce their reported desired portion sizes of HED snacks or SSBs relative to control. Conclusions: These preliminary studies demonstrated that social media is a feasible way to communicate with young people. However, while the intervention influenced young adults’ reported desired portions and social norms regarding their peers’ portions, no significant impact on desired reported portion sizes was found for HED snacks and SSBs in adolescents. Desired portion sizes of some foods and beverages may be resistant to change via a social media intervention in this age group.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalDigital Health
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health Policy
  • Health Informatics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Health Information Management


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