Is obesity a social disease? Maybe not. But a new study suggests a person's circle of friends may influence his or her weight – at least in teens, a group notoriously subject to peer pressure.
The study, by Loyola University researchers, found high school students were more likely to gain weight if their friends are heavier than they are. By contrast, students were more likely to be thin – or gain weight at a slower pace – if their friends are leaner. SPECIAL: These 5 Things Flush 40 lbs. of Fat Out of Your Body — Read More.
Lead researcher David Shoham, who reported the study in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, said the findings suggest tapping into the power of teen’s social networks may be the best way to target obesity, boost physical activity and promote healthy eating habits.
"These results can help us develop better interventions to prevent obesity," Shoham said. "We should not be treating adolescents in isolation."
For the study, researchers tracked nearly 1,800 students at two large high schools over a two-year period. Students were surveyed about their weight, friendships, sports activities and screen time.
In analyzing the results, researchers found a significant link between obesity and a student's circle of friends. For example, if a borderline overweight student had lean friends, there was a 40 percent chance the student's weight would drop in the future. But if a borderline overweight student had obese friends, there was a 56 percent chance it would increase.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. SPECIAL: These 5 Things Flush 40 lbs. of Fat Out of Your Body — Read More.