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How your friends make you fat—the social network of weight
Posted By Christine Junge On May 24, 2011 @ 12:53 pm In Diet and Weight Loss,Health,Healthy Eating | Comments Disabled
One of the big health news stories of 2007 was a study showing that your friends influence the size of your waist (and the rest of your body). Like any study, it raised as many questions as it answered, including why this happens. A new study from Arizona State University looked into that question by testing three pathways by which friends might influence one another’s body size:
All three of these pathways are based on the idea that loved ones share social norms, the implicit cultural beliefs that make some things okay, others not.
To test which if any of these pathways affect weight, the researchers recruited 112 women between the ages of 18 and 45 years; half of them were overweight or obese. The researchers then contacted male and female friends, spouses, family members, and coworkers of these women, and ended up with 812 pairs. All of the people were asked about their weight and their feelings about and perceptions of body weight.
The results confirmed the 2007 study’s conclusion that if you have heavier friends, family members, and colleagues, it is more likely that you will be heavier, too. The stronger the relationship between the two people, the stronger the link between their weights. But only one of the pathways—number three—explained why people of the same size clustered together. The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health on May 9, 2011.
“I was surprised,” Dr. Brewis Slade told me during a phone interview. “I would have thought that pathway number two was the most powerful, since it’s really about your struggle to meet other people’s expectations, but it turns out it’s not the best explanation. The key message is that behavior and what people do together is important. So parents might want to go bicycling with their kids, go to a salad bar with kids, focus on what they do together.”
There are, of course, many reasons why people gain weight, and the Arizona State study provides only one possibility. But it also provides another motivation for each of us to make healthy choices—they help not only our own waistlines, but those of our friends and family, too.
If you want to lose weight and would rather not rely on your friends, take a look at Lose Weight and Keep It Off, a new Special Health Report from Harvard Health Publications.
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