Environmental conditions influence meal size in adults and children. Intake of sweet drinks could contribute significantly to energy intake and potentially affect body weight, particularly in young individuals. The objectives of the present study were to measure the lunch intake of food and drinks under controlled laboratory settings in teenagers and to compare the influence of different meal conditions. Normal-weight adolescents (fourteen males and fifteen females) participated in four standardised lunches, scheduled 1 week apart. The same popular items (meat dish, dessert, water, juice, soda) were served at all meals. Ad libitum intake was measured under four conditions: subjects ate alone; in groups; alone while viewing television; alone while listening to music. Visual analogue scales were used to assess pre- and post-meal hunger and thirst and meal palatability. Energy, solid food and fluid intake was different (significantly lower) only in the ‘eating in group’ condition, in spite of identical intensity of pre-meal hunger. More soda was consumed when participants were watching television, and more water was consumed while listening to music. Across all conditions, more soda than water was consumed. Post-meal ratings of hunger, thirst and palatability did not differ between conditions. We concluded that, in teenagers, a ‘social inhibition’ effect appears rather than the ‘social facilitation’ previously reported in adults. Although teenagers do not respond to the presence of television or another ‘distractor’ such as music by eating more, they do ingest more soda when the television is on. The social significance of meals, conditioned responses and habituation to ‘distractors’ may be different between adolescents and adults.
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