Is there evidence that friends influence body weight? A systematic review of empirical research
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.
Volume (Year): 75 (2012)
Issue (Month): 7 ()
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- Ethan Cohen-Cole & Jason M. Fletcher, 2008.
"Is obesity contagious?: social networks vs. environmental factors in the obesity epidemic,"
Risk and Policy Analysis Unit Working Paper
QAU08-2, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
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"Weight Gain in Adolescents and Their Peers,"
IZA Discussion Papers
3610, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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