The Hard Facts: Friends Make Your Weight

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“A Loyola study of high school students provides new evidence that a person’s circle of friends may influence his or her weight. Students were more likely to gain weight if they had friends who were heavier than they were. Conversely, students were more likely to get trimmer — or gain weight at a slower pace — if their friends were leaner than they were.” (“Obesity Linked to Circle of Friends” ; ScienceDaily.com, 7/9/2012)

A study like this comes out about every six months, each time with a small twist. This time the study is of high school students, but the upshot is the same: If your friends are overweight, you’re more likely to be overweight too.

For high school students, the outside weight influences are even stronger than they might be in adults. For example, “a student’s social network also influences how active he or she is in sports,” and conversely, a student whose best friends would rather sit and play video games is likely to do the same.

It should be noted that there is an element of self-selection here, meaning sometimes leaner students choose leaner friends and vice versa. But the study authors say that even after accounting for said selection, the effect still stands. The bad news? A borderline overweight student is more likely to gain weight if her friends are overweight than she is to lose weight if her friends are lean. No shocker, I guess. But so annoying. Gaining weight is always easier than losing.

The takeaway here, according to the authors, is that obesity prevention should be geared toward groups, rather than one person at a time.

Even though this is a study of high schoolers, I know it to be true of adults. When it comes to my most active friend, she is always suggesting we go for a walk when we get together. When I was in Colorado over the weekend with a group of super-active pals, we spent the day hiking rather than shopping or watching TV, as I might normally. And if a friend suggests we stay home and do nothing, I’m the first to jump on the couch.

But like I said, this isn’t new. The whole “obesity is contagious” spiel has been making headlines for three years. So tell me, does this surprise you? Do you ever notice your friends’ weights affecting your own?

15 Comments

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15 responses to “The Hard Facts: Friends Make Your Weight

  1. I’ve had friends where our friendships were based on eating, shopping, and drinking, which were all addictive. Pretty sure we gained weight and lost money after a prolonged period of spending time together.

  2. I wouldn’t consciously reject someone who was overweight as a friend, but I have known overweight people and their sedentary habits, and I just think we’d be a bad match. What would we do together? I like to go for walks, and be outdoors, and they like to stay indoors and lounge and eat. It seems like more a choice of logic than of anything else. (That’s all assuming the overweight person is sedentary and likes to eat, which I know is not always the case.)

  3. Most of my friends are heavier than me, and I have been on a gradual, yet steady increase in my own weight for several years now. So I can attest to the above being true, unfortunately. I too am the first one up for a movie-watch with popcorn, as opposed to an uphill hike. It’s just as likely that I’m the bad influence, regardless of generally being the thinner one.

  4. This is such an interesting topic – as women, we are definitely more in tune with each other (we even start getting on the same menstrual cycle!)…so I think our friends’ habits can have a major impact and vice versa.

    If you’re eating well and fitness-oriented, this may not be such an issue for you. I have found that women who are conscious about their weight and/or who try to live a healthy lifestyle tend to not be influenced by their friends’ as much as those who don’t. It’s more a matter of where you are on that spectrum, and how much you are influenced by others. A high schooler may be more influenced than, say, an adult – it all depends on one’s sense of self (levels of confidence, self-esteem, etc).

    The power of group activities is phenomenal when it comes to becoming healthier – we have our work out buddies or there are weight watchers meetings where people come together to talk about their weight loss journey. It’s sometimes easier to make these positive changes when we’re doing it with our friends and have that support. On the flip side, if our social network is not healthy and/ or overweight, it can be more of a struggle if you’re wanting to do physical activities or become healthier.

    At the end of the day, it’s up to us to make healthier choices, and whether we decide as individuals or as a group, it can affect our friendships/relationships.

  5. This is really interesting!

    In terms of friend selection, if common interests include exercise, then it is likely to come up in conversation (and vice-versa). If conversation consistently revolves around weight loss or exercise, it is likely those listening might get curious and try out the regimen.

    In my case this is definitely true. Friends hear me talk about P90X and Weight Watchers, and because it’s successful for me, they think it could also work for them. I have a number of friends who have tried both, stating I motivated them to give it a shot. So I guess if we’re all working out and inspiring each other to live healthier lifestyles then it’s just one more way to bond our friendship and give us more to talk about. Also, if my friends are headed to the gym I always feel guilty if I’m not. Maybe that’s just my competitive streak, though!

    Great topic!

  6. tunie

    Yes, but only because I’ve not been being true to my self with my habits. I’ve just been noticing this, so the timeliness of this post is uncanny. Joining the gym and back to guarding my own habits implicitly!

  7. Anonymous

    So, wait, a person with overweight friends is more likely to gain weight, but a person with lean friends is more likely to lose? Do they just eventually meet in the middle?

  8. So… I need more really skinny friends? I feel like this makes me a hypocrite! ;) Super interesting thoughts… thanks for sharing!

  9. This is so true! Long time ago when I hung out more often with friends who were into dieting and exercising, I lost weight! Nowadays, I go out with friends who are more into shopping, watching movies, and the result is I’ve gained some weight! Sad fact. I guess balance is ultimately the key to healthy physical and social life, eh? ;)
    Great and interesting post, anyway.

  10. I had never really thought about this, so I do find this food for thought. ( No pun intended). I agree with Ruth.. since I’m plump-ish ;) should I seek out skinny friends? Would they want to be friends with me? Sends me right back to high school just thinking about it. But think about it I shall the next time I’m either befriended or snubbed. Maybe there is a correlation?

  11. This is definitely thought-worthy, and I agree with it fundamentally. Tends to hold true that people are even typically more inclined to have friends in the same weight range.

    But I’m not so sure I’d take that long hike just because my friends are. :) I prefer the nice cool mall, or the beach to any long hiking.

    Oh, I’m a blogging buddy of Jules – at least that’s what I tell her. Hopefully she won’t see this. I don’t want to hurt her feelings and send her back to the middle school geek table. You know she hates that. hehehe

  12. jess

    I have actually thought about this throughout my life, as I have always had curvy size 12 friends who look similar to me. It really makes you wonder how does this happen? Me and my high school friends analyzed this back then too! I think a major part of it is that we flock to people similar to us, it makes us feel comfortable and validated. We also gravitate to people with similar interests hence why people who are really into exercise, shopping, eating all gravitate towards each other. One other reason is because we eat/drink similar to what are friends are doing when we are with them. If I am with someone who eats a lot, I may be inclined to eat more. This idea totally makes sense but I do believe in having a variety of friends with a variety of interests! I think it is also important to be who you are and make your own decisions!

  13. Very interesting read. I was as skinny as a rail in high school, but I must have hung around the heavier kids, cause I sure gain weight since then. Granted that was 44 years ago, and many different groups of folks I hung around with, now I must have the proper blend, because I am neither gaining or losing. Thanks for the good read. — Bill

  14. My friends are a mixed bag, so I don’t really think I’m “affected” by their weight one way or the other. I’m somewhere in the middle, not overweight, but not thin or skinny. Some of my friends swim & go hiking, some are lazy, I adapt to their habits I guess, but my eating habits have always been my own. But that’s the thing about humans though, we adapt to what we’re exposed to. So who’s to say that I won’t gain weight or lose weight if I spent more time around a select few of my friends for longer periods. Social experiments!!

  15. Mixrgroup makes it easy to meet and socialize with new people and friends creating profiles, events, meet points, discussions etc. Users can add accommodations, rate events, sell tickets or provide rides to events etc.

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