THURSDAY, July 12 (HealthDay News) -- Worried about the battle of the bulge? Your circle of friends might be key to your weight gain, a new study suggests.
The research, conducted among high school students, found that teens were more likely to pile on the pounds if they hung out with people who were already heavier than they were. The opposite was true for students whose friends were thinner, however.
The researchers say the findings might help experts combat obesity, at least among teenagers.
"These results can help us develop better interventions to prevent obesity. We should not be treating adolescents in isolation," study author David Shoham, an assistant professor in the department of preventive medicine and epidemiology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, said in a Loyola news release.
In conducting the observational study, the researchers were trying to figure out if obesity clusters in groups of friends due to social influences (when friends influence one another) or if people simply seek out the friendship of people who are most similar to themselves, including weight status.
To answer this question, the researchers examined information previously collected from students at two large high schools over the course of two school years. One school, known as Jefferson High, was located in a rural area and had a mostly white student population. The second school, called Sunshine High, was located in a city and had a more racial and ethnically diverse student body.
The researchers applied a statistical technique to analyze survey responses from more than 600 students from Jefferson High and 1,151 students from Sunshine High. The teens were asked about their weight, friends, sports and the amount of time they spent in front of the TV or computer or playing video games. The researchers also calculated the students' body mass index (a measure of height and weight).
The way th
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