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New evidence for link between obesity and circle of friends
Date:7/9/2012

rsity. Students were surveyed during the 1994-95 school year and surveyed again the following school year. Researchers examined data from 624 students at Jefferson High and 1,151 students at Sunshine High. Previously, researchers not affiliated with the current study asked students about their weight, friendships, sports activities and screen time. The body size measure they used was body mass index (BMI), which is calculated from a student's height and weight. A BMI over 25 is considered overweight and a BMI over 30 is considered obese.

Researchers found that part of the reason why obesity clusters in social networks was due to the way students selected friends. But even after controlling for this friend-selecting process, there still was a significant link between obesity and a student's circle of friends. For example, if a borderline overweight student at Jefferson High School had lean friends (average BMI 20), there was a 40 percent chance the student's BMI would drop in the future and a 27 percent chance it would increase. But if a borderline overweight student had obese friends (average BMI 30), there was a 15 percent chance the student's BMI would decrease and a 56 percent chance it would increase.

The findings, researchers concluded, show that social influence "tends to operate more in detrimental directions, especially for BMI; a focus on weight loss is therefore less likely to be effective than a primary prevention strategy against weight gain. Effective interventions will be necessary to overcome these barriers, requiring that social networks be considered rather than ignored."

Shoham noted the study has several limitations. All of the measures were based on self-reported data, which has known biases. Social network studies are observational rather than experimental, which limits researchers' ability to call the associations causal. The model also makes assumptions about how friendships form, are maintained, and dissolve over time, and
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Contact: Jim Ritter
jritter@lumc.edu
708-216-2445
Loyola University Health System
Source:Eurekalert

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