Overweight teens more likely to be rejected as friends by normal weight peers

Overweight young people are more likely to be rejected as friends by peers who are of normal weight, according to new research by Arizona State University social scientists.

"Using Social Network Analysis to Clarify the Role of Obesity in Adolescent Friend Selection," published in the American Journal of Public Health by Arizona State University Associate Professors David R. Schaefer of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and Sandra D. Simpkins of the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, used social network analysis to incorporate knowledge of how complex social and biological relations contribute to friendship behavior.

"We found consistent evidence that overweight youth choose non-overweight friends more often than they were selected in return," Schaefer said. Researchers found that overweight youth were mostly indifferent to the weight status of their friends. These results suggest that overweight youth often reach out to non-overweight peers for friendship, but are sometimes rebuffed in those efforts. As a consequence, overweight youth may turn to overweight peers for friendship.

Young people are also more likely to socially marginalize those who are overweight. As a consequence, overweight youth have one fewer friend, on average, than young people.

"This is especially troubling since friendships are important sources of support and companionship," Simpkins said. "Not having or losing friends is associated with higher depression and lower self-worth for young people, which could exacerbate the health problems associated with being overweight."

The influence of not having friends or being shunned because of extra weight can be especially difficult during formative teen years.

"Negative repercussions of not having friends may be more pronounced in middle- and high-school when intimacy and fitting into peer groups is critical," Schaefer said.

Researchers analyzed data for the study from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health that surveyed 58,987 students in 88 middle and high schools. The average age of the multiracial survey sample was 15 and 51 percent were female. Approximately 20 percent of students surveyed provided body mass index data. Students who participated in the study identified their 10 closest friends, five of whom were female and five who were male.

Researchers utilized social in the study in order to account for different types of friend selection processes, such as attraction based on similarities, meeting during extracurricular activities, or meeting through a mutual friend. This allowed the researchers to isolate the effect of on friend selection.

"Long-term implications of the study include considering ramifications of social marginalization for prevention and intervention strategies that support the emotional development of overweight youth," Simpkins said. "It's important to keep in mind that overweight youth still have lots of friends. Having just one friend makes a big difference. And, it's less important how many friends teens have; what is key is that those are supportive."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Girls more prone to social networking depression

Mar 18, 2014

Gender and level of 'investment' in social networking sites are more important than frequency of use when trying to understand how sites such as Facebook influence youth, according to Murdoch University researchers.

Recommended for you

Gut bacteria promote obesity in mice

Sep 30, 2014

A species of gut bacteria called Clostridium ramosum, coupled with a high-fat diet, may cause animals to gain weight. The work is published this week in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiol ...

An apple a day could keep obesity away

Sep 29, 2014

Scientists at Washington State University have concluded that nondigestible compounds in apples – specifically, Granny Smith apples – may help prevent disorders associated with obesity. The study, thought ...

Boosting purchasing power to lower obesity rates

Sep 25, 2014

In January, as one of the first major initiatives of the Academic Vision, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity will move to UConn from Yale University. The move will allow Rudd faculty to expand their work and build ...

Note to young men: Fat doesn't pay

Sep 23, 2014

Men who are already obese as teenagers could grow up to earn up to 18 percent less than their peers of normal weight. So says Petter Lundborg of Lund University, Paul Nystedt of Jönköping University and ...

Waistlines of US adults continue to increase

Sep 16, 2014

The prevalence of abdominal obesity and average waist circumference increased among U.S. adults from 1999 to 2012, according to a study in the September 17 issue of JAMA.

User comments