You are Who You Hang With

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You are Who You Hang With

Don’t Let Your Friends Determine Your WeightAsk your About Dr. Cywes how your circle of friends in Jacksonville can influence your body weight

Have you ever wondered if your body weight is in any way influenced by the people you surround yourself with? New research shows a person’s circle of friends can potentially influence his or her body weight. Specifically, the study revealed students were more likely to gain weight if they had friends who were heavier than they were, yet they were likely to lose weight (or gain weight at a slower pace) if their friends were skinnier than they were.

What’s more, the study revealed that a student’s social network of real life acquaintances also influences how active he or she becomes in sports and physical activity. Researchers believe the study’s results can help experts develop improved interventions to prevent obesity—or new methods for treating overweight adolescents as a group and not in isolation.

The Background

Researchers designed this study to identify the reason(s) why obesity and related behaviors tend to cluster in social groups. Specifically, researchers wanted to know if this correlation was due to friends having influence over one another (“social influence”) or if lean adolescents tend to have lean friends while heavy adolescents tend to have heavy friends (“homophily”). To do so, researchers used a sophisticated statistical technique called “stochastic actor-based model” to further establish the link between obesity and social groups.

Using this model, researchers examined data from two high schools, referred to as “Jefferson High” and “Sunshine High,” that participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health from 1994 to 1996. Data concerning friendships, weight status, sports activities and screen time from 624 Jefferson High students and 1,151 Sunshine High students was examined. To be considered overweight a student must have a BMI over 25 and to be considered obese must have a BMI over 30.

The Findings

After analyzing the data, researchers found one of the reasons why obesity tends to cluster among social groups lies in the way students select friends. However, even after researchers controlled for this friend-selecting process, a significant link between obesity and a student’s circle of friends still remained. For example, if a borderline overweight student at Jefferson high had lean friends, there was a 40 percent chance that student’s BMI would drop in the future and 27 percent chance it would increase. However, if a borderline obese student also had obese friends, there was a 15 percent chance the student’s BMI would decrease and 56 percent chance it would increase.

After reviewing the findings, researchers concluded that social influence tends to operate more in injurious directions, especially for BMI. Furthermore, this leads experts to believe that a focus on weight loss is less likely to be effective for treating and preventing obesity than a primary prevention strategy against weight gain.

The Takeaway

Though this study had several limitations in that social group studies are more observational than experimental, and the applied model makes assumptions as to how friendships are formed and dissolve over time, the results prove beneficial to highlighting the importance of selection and peer influence in network studies of health.

Take a minute to think about your individual struggle with weight and how your friends might influence you. Do your close friends and family also struggle with weight issues? Do you and your close circle of friends participate in physical activities often, or are you part of a social circle who frequently dines out? All of these factors may play a role in your struggles with weight gain. Your weight loss surgeon can help you determine the root of your battle with weight while surgery support groups can help influence your health in a positive manner. If you’re concerned that your social circle might be influencing your waistline for the worse, talk with your weight loss surgeon today.

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