Social status and energy intake: a randomized controlled experiment

G. Pavela, D. W. Lewis, J. A. Dawson, M. Cardel, D. B. Allison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


While the inverse association between socioeconomic status (SES) and obesity in high gross domestic product countries is well established using observational data, the extent to which the association is due to a true causal effect of SES and, if so, the mechanisms of this effect remain incompletely known. To assess the influence of social status on obesity via energy intake, we randomized individuals to a higher or lower social status and observed subsequent energy intake. College students between the ages of 18 and 25 were randomized to social status and were operationalized as being a leader or follower in a partner activity as purportedly determined by a (bogus) test of leadership ability. Investigators were blinded to treatment assignment. Immediately after being told their leadership assignment, paired participants were provided with platters of food. Energy intake was objectively measured in kilocalories (kcal) consumed, and paired t-tests were used to test for significant differences in intake between leaders and followers. A total of 60 participants were included in the final analysis (males = 28, females = 32). Overall, no difference in energy intake was observed between leaders and followers, consuming an average of 575.3 and 579.8 kcal, respectively (diff = 4.5 kcal, P = 0.94). The null hypothesis of no effect of social status, operationalized as assignment to a leadership position in a small-group activity, on energy intake was not rejected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)316-322
Number of pages7
JournalClinical obesity
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • Energy Intake
  • obesity
  • social status
  • socioeconomic status


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