A new study published today in the American Journal of Public Health finds that certain eating patterns appear to be socially transmissible across different kinds of relationships, particularly spouses.

Researchers investigated whether eating behaviors were concordant among diverse sets of social ties. They analyzed the socioeconomic and demographic distribution of eating among 3,418 members of the Framingham Heart Study. They examined associations among four types of peers, including spouses, friends, brothers and sisters. They found that spouses showed the strongest concordances in eating patterns over time after adjustment for social context factors. They discovered the eating pattern most likely to be shared by socially connected individuals was one characterized by high levels of alcohol and snacks.

According to the Huffington Post, “The hypothesis is that your eating behavior is going to be affected by those around you,” said Paul F. Jacques, D.Sc., director of the Nutritional Epidemiology Program at Tufts University and one of the study’s authors. “With spouses, it has a lot to do with the stronger shared environment,” he added. “One person is probably preparing food for the other frequently.”

The researchers stated, “the rather consistent emergence of ‘alcohol and snacks’ as a concordant pattern across relationship types harmonizes with the intuition that this form of consumption is also intrinsically more social in nature. Items in this food pattern are easy to share and often require less of a time commitment relative to meals; in addition, in American society, alcohol is culturally associated with sociability.”

“The knowledge that our eating patterns are similar to the eating patterns of those with whom we are socially connected contributes to the perspective — increasingly more supported in the public health field — that when people are connected, their health is connected. To the extent that people’s eating choices are influenced by the eating choices of those to whom they are connected, it may not simply be that ‘you are what you eat.’ It may be that ‘you are what people in your social network eat’ as well,” the study’s authors wrote in their paper.

“Social Network Concordance in Food Choice Among Spouses, Friends and Siblings.”