: The Impact of Social Media on Food Choices from the Perspective of University Students in Saudi Arabia; A Qualitative Study.

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Abstract Aim: This is a qualitative study which used semi-structured interviews to explore students’ perceptions on the influence of social media on the food choices among university students in Saudi Arabia. Background: considering the growing numbers of social media users around the globe, the impacts of social media on people’ live is not yet understood. One aspect of living that could be affected by social media is the choice of food. The focus of this study is to capture the perceived influence of using social media on the food choices among Saudi university students. Methodology: A qualitative methodology was utilized. Interviews discussions were undertaken with 11 males and females students studying at KAU aged between 19 to 22. The data was analysed using thematic analysis. Findings: Factors identified by students as being most influential on their food choices included living situations and food preference. Other factors were mentioned too such as, tradition and culture, habits, cooking skills. However, living with family and taste were the two reasons that the participants chose as the most important reasons for influencing dietary choices. Most students indicated that living with the family was the most leading factor on the food choice. All participants highlighted that the food facilities at KAU had limited availability of healthy food options. They reported lack of healthy meals in university restaurants, which has caused many of them to make unhealthy food choices. Interestingly, this was not the only problem students faced when wishing to make more healthy food choice. Despite the limited availability of healthy food meals in campus, students have indicated that healthy food was relatively expensive compared to other food on campus. Participants stated that the Internet was their main source of information, in particular searching social media. They follow experts’ accounts on social media to learn about health topics in general and specifically about diet and meal planning. Also, participants mentioned that food was a popular subject on social media, where they regularly publish, share, and engage with food posts. Moreover, participants acknowledge social media influencers power to affect people’ choices, they believed that those influencers were able to introduce and stimulate new trends and habits into the Saudi society. Participants considered that social media influencers have affected the public health in negative way. Participants found that using social media influenced the food choices, where their food decisions were considerably affected by using social media. Many participants highlighted that high exposure to food posts published on social media has influenced their food choices. Conclusion: The study explored the perceived influence of social media on the food choice among university students in Saudi. It found that using social media was perceived to significantly influence the choice of food.