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?