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Is there evidence that friends influence body weight? A systematic review of empirical research

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  • Cunningham, Solveig A.
  • Vaquera, Elizabeth
  • Maturo, Claire C.
  • Venkat Narayan, K.M.
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    Abstract

    Researchers and policymakers from diverse fields are engaged in efforts to understand the biological and social causes of obesity in order to develop policies, interventions, and recommendations to stop or reverse increases in obesity. One potentially promising approach is to harness influence from social contacts. An important foundation for this approach involves critically analyzing available data regarding whether and how body weight can be affected by close social contacts, especially friends. This systematic review examines evidence from published studies addressing the influences of friends on body weight. The majority of the sixteen studies conclude that there is evidence of influence: six reported that friends influence body weight and ten reported evidence of influence in some circumstances or specifications. However, this literature sheds little light on mechanisms of influence. There is limited evidence that friends’ communication about weight is associated with weight status and no compelling evidence that friends’ behaviors affect one’s weight. Many of the studies best designed to examine influence were the ones that did not explore mechanisms of influence. A priority for future research is to understand how, when, and how much friends affect the risk of obesity.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Social Science & Medicine.

    Volume (Year): 75 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 7 ()
    Pages: 1175-1183

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:7:p:1175-1183

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    Keywords: Social networks; Obesity; Overweight; BMI; Peers; Friendship; Influence;

    References

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    1. Cohen-Cole, Ethan & Fletcher, Jason M., 2008. "Is obesity contagious? Social networks vs. environmental factors in the obesity epidemic," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(5), pages 1382-1387, September.
    2. Fowler, J.H. & Christakis, N.A., 2008. "Estimating peer effects on health in social networks: A response to Cohen-Cole and Fletcher; and Trogdon, Nonnemaker, and Pais," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(5), pages 1400-1405, September.
    3. Renna, Francesco & Grafova, Irina B. & Thakur, Nidhi, 2008. "The effect of friends on adolescent body weight," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 377-387, December.
    4. Halliday, Timothy J. & Kwak, Sally, 2009. "Weight gain in adolescents and their peers," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 7(2), pages 181-190, July.
    5. Trogdon, Justin G. & Nonnemaker, James & Pais, Joanne, 2008. "Peer effects in adolescent overweight," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(5), pages 1388-1399, September.
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    Cited by:
    1. Christensen, Vibeke T. & Carpiano, Richard M., 2014. "Social class differences in BMI among Danish women: Applying Cockerham's health lifestyles approach and Bourdieu's theory of lifestyle," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 12-21.

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