"You know what, I'm in the trend as well" - Understanding the inter-play between digital and real-life social influences on the food and activity choices of young adults

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Public health nutrition




choices; diets; physical activity; social environments; social media; young adults


OBJECTIVE: To understand young adults' perceptions of online and real-life social influences on their food and activity choices. DESIGN: A qualitative study involving seven focus groups. Thematic analyses using both deductive and inductive techniques were performed. SETTING: A polytechnic and a university in Singapore. PARTICIPANTS: A total of 46 full-time students, 19-24 years of age. RESULTS: Participants revealed that social media meets multiple needs, contributing to its ubiquitous use and facilitating content spread between social networks. Food-related content shared on social media were mostly commercial posts, marketing foods and eateries showcasing price-promotions, emphasizing sensory properties of foods, or creating narratives that activated trends. Subsequently, real-life social activities frequently revolve around marketed foods that were not necessarily healthy. In contrast, physical activity posts were rarely being followed up in real life. Portrayals describing a toxic gym culture could contribute to negative perceptions of peers' physical activity posts and a disinclination towards sharing such posts. Participants expressed that close, supportive social networks in real-life strongly influenced initiating and maintaining healthy lifestyles. However, in a society that highly values academic achievements, participants prioritized studying and socializing over healthy eating and physical activity. CONCLUSIONS: Overall, our findings reveal that virtual and real-life social influences have complex interactions affecting Asian young adults' behavioral choices and should be considered when designing interventions for this group. Regulations related to the digital marketing of unhealthy food, and improving the availability, accessibility, and affordability of healthier food options, particularly in the foodservice sector, would be of value to consider.


Exercise and Nutrition Sciences