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Is Poor Fitness Contagious? Evidence from Randomly Assigned Friends

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  • Scott E. Carrell
  • Mark Hoekstra
  • James E. West

Abstract

The increase in obesity over the past thirty years has led researchers to investigate the role of social networks as a contributing factor. However, several challenges make it difficult to demonstrate a causal link between friends' physical fitness and own fitness using observational data. To overcome these problems, we exploit data from a unique setting in which individuals are randomly assigned to peer groups. We find statistically significant peer effects that are 40 to 70 percent as large as the own effect of prior fitness scores on current fitness outcomes. Evidence suggests that the effects are caused primarily by friends who were the least fit, thus supporting the provocative notion that poor physical fitness spreads on a person-to-person basis.

Suggested Citation

  • Scott E. Carrell & Mark Hoekstra & James E. West, 2010. "Is Poor Fitness Contagious? Evidence from Randomly Assigned Friends," NBER Working Papers 16518, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16518
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Scott E. Carrell & Frederick V. Malmstrom & James E. West, 2008. "Peer Effects in Academic Cheating," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(1).
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    3. 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.
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    6. Scott E. Carrell & Richard L. Fullerton & James E. West, 2009. "Does Your Cohort Matter? Measuring Peer Effects in College Achievement," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(3), pages 439-464, July.
    7. David S. Lyle, 2007. "Estimating and Interpreting Peer and Role Model Effects from Randomly Assigned Social Groups at West Point," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(2), pages 289-299, May.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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