Overweight youth seek obese friends

July 20th, 2009 - 2:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 20 (IANS) Overweight youth are twice as likely to gravitate towards obese peers for friendship, says a new study.
“Although this link between obesity and social networks was expected, it was surprising how strong the peer effect is and how early in life it starts,” said study co-author Thomas Valente.

Valente is professor in preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California (USC).

Previous data had shown a connection between overweight adults and their social peers. However, the USC study used more advanced statistical modelling techniques than previous research and the association remained strong, Valente said.

“The findings certainly raise health concerns because when kids start associating only with others who have a similar weight status it can reinforce the negative behaviours that cause obesity,” he said.

In-school surveys were conducted among 617 students ages 11-13 from the greater Los Angeles area.

Researchers also found that overweight girls were more likely to name more friends, but less likely to be named as a friend than normal-weight girls.

“Researchers tend to focus mainly on health consequences when talking about weight with adolescents,” Valente said. “But we also need to be sensitive to the reality that there can be a social cost for overweight youth as well.”

Interventions should take these peer constructs into account, he said, according to an USC release.

“For parents and educators, this may mean being conscious of potential social consequences that children may suffer as a result of being overweight; and acknowledge that many of the behaviours which contribute to obesity are social in nature,” Valente added.

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