Family, friends, social ties influence weight status in young adults

January 11, 2011, Lifespan

Does obesity tend to "cluster" among young adults? And if so, what impact does it have on both their weight and weight-related behaviors? That's what researchers from The Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center set out to answer to better understand how social influences affect both weight status and weight loss intentions in this difficult-to-reach age group.

According to the study, published online by the journal Obesity, overweight and obese young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 were more likely to have overweight romantic partners and best friends and also had more overweight casual friends and family members compared to normal weight peers. Also, overweight and obese young adults who reported having social contacts trying to lose weight had greater intentions.

Why is this an important issue? Forty percent of young adults age 18-25 are considered overweight or obese, and young adults experience the highest rate of weight gain per year – typically one to two pounds – of any age group. While previous research has consistently demonstrated the powerful impact of on health behaviors, especially for younger individuals, no previous study has examined whether social ties influence and weight loss intentions among young adults.

Lead author Tricia Leahey, PhD, a researcher with The Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Research Center, also points out that young adults are less likely to participate in behavioral weight loss interventions, and when they do, they tend to lose less weight than older adults. "Identifying the factors that influence both weight status and weight control in this high-risk age group can help us develop appealing and effective obesity treatment and prevention programs for this population," she said.

The study included 288 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25; 151 individuals were of normal weight, while 137 were considered overweight or obese (BMI of 25 or greater). The majority of participants were female and Caucasian. All participants completed questionnaires to determine their weight and height, number of overweight social contacts (including best friends, , casual , relatives and colleagues/classmates) and perceived for obesity and obesity-related behaviors.

Overweight and obese study participants completed additional questionnaires to assess how many of their overweight social contacts were currently trying to lose weight, perceived social norms for weight loss (such as how frequently social contacts encouraged them to lose weight or whether the people closest to them would approve if they were to lose weight), and intentions to lose weight within the next three months.

Compared to normal weight young adults, those who were overweight or obese were more likely to have an overweight romantic partner (25 percent vs. 14 percent) and an overweight best friend (24 percent vs. 14 percent). "Our data suggests that obesity 'clusters' in this population. But interestingly, social norms for did not differ between the two groups and did not account for the clustering," said Leahey. "Both groups reported similarly low levels of social acceptability for being overweight, eating unhealthy foods and being inactive."

The study also showed overweight and obese young adults who had more social contacts trying to lose weight were more likely to want to lose weight themselves. Social norms for weight loss, such as encouragement and approval from social contacts, account for this association, researchers say.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Sweet, bitter, fat: New study reveals impact of genetics on how kids snack

February 22, 2018
Whether your child asks for crackers, cookies or veggies to snack on could be linked to genetics, according to new findings from the Guelph Family Health Study at the University of Guelph.

The good and bad health news about your exercise posts on social media

February 22, 2018
We all have that Facebook friend—or 10—who regularly posts photos of his or her fitness pursuits: on the elliptical at the gym, hiking through the wilderness, crossing a 10K finish line.

Smartphones are bad for some teens, not all

February 21, 2018
Is the next generation better or worse off because of smartphones? The answer is complex and research shows it largely depends on their lives offline.

Tackling health problems in the young is crucial for their children's future

February 21, 2018
A child's growth and development is affected by the health and lifestyles of their parents before pregnancy - even going back to adolescence - according to a new study by researchers at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, ...

Lead and other toxic metals found in e-cigarette 'vapors': study

February 21, 2018
Significant amounts of toxic metals, including lead, leak from some e-cigarette heating coils and are present in the aerosols inhaled by users, according to a study from scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public ...

Why teens need up to 10 hours' sleep

February 21, 2018
Technology, other distractions and staying up late make is difficult, but researchers say teenagers need to make time for 8-10 hours of sleep a night to optimise their performance and maintain good health and wellbeing.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.