Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 205–212

Do Social Activities Substitute for Food in Youth?

  • Sarah-Jeanne Salvy
  • Lauren A. Nitecki
  • Leonard H. Epstein
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s12160-009-9145-0

Cite this article as:
Salvy, SJ., Nitecki, L.A. & Epstein, L.H. ann. behav. med. (2009) 38: 205. doi:10.1007/s12160-009-9145-0



Behavioral economics offers a framework to understand choice among alternatives. There is no research on the interrelationship between food and social activity in overweight and non-overweight children.


The purpose of this study is to test the substitutability of food and social interactions using behavioral economic methods in overweight and non-overweight youth.


Fifty-four (24 males and 30 females) overweight and non-overweight youth aged 9 to 11 years old were tested using a behavioral choice paradigm which involved participants responding to earn points exchangeable for food and/or social activity.


Youth substituted food for social activities when the cost of social time with an unfamiliar peer increased (p < 0.05) and substituted food for social activities with an unfamiliar peer when the cost of food increased (p < 0.05). However, when interacting with a friend was the alternative, participants did not substitute food for social interactions.


Social interactions can serve as a substitute for food in both lean and overweight youth.


Food reinforcementSocial activityChildrenBehavioral economics

Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah-Jeanne Salvy
    • 1
  • Lauren A. Nitecki
    • 1
  • Leonard H. Epstein
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Pediatrics, Division of Behavioral MedicineState University of New York at BuffaloBuffaloUSA