You only have to look up #foodlove on Instagram to be inundated with thousands of photos of delicious dinners and drool-inducing desserts.
But there may be more to sharing food snaps online, as psychologists from Aston University have now discovered that social media users who view images of healthy foods that have been heavily endorsed with 'likes' are more likely to make healthier food choices.
For the study, the researchers found that participants who viewed highly-liked mock Instagram posts of fruit and vegetables ate a significantly higher proportion of grapes than cookies, with consumption of grapes increasing by 14 per cent more calories, compared to those who viewed highly-liked high-calorie foods.
"The findings of the study suggest that not only exposure to healthy food images on social media, but those that are also heavily endorsed with 'likes', may nudge people to choose to eat more healthy foods, in place of less nutritious foods," said psychology PhD student Lily Hawkins, who led the study alongside supervisor Dr. Jason Thomas. "What we see others approve of eating and post about eating on social media can affect our actual eating behaviour and could result in greater consumption of healthier meals and snacks.
"One reason for this may be because thinking that others 'like' and eat fruit and vegetables nudges participants to alter their behaviour in order to fit in with what they perceive to be the norm."
The researchers now want to trial an intervention using real Instagram accounts, to test whether asking people to actively follow more social media accounts posting images of highly-liked nutritionally rich foods, can encourage them to consume more fruit and vegetables over a sustained period of time.
Full study results have been published in the journal Appetite.