Effect of peers on eating behaviors and bodyweight
The effects of peers on health-related behaviors are commonly examined using sociometric studies. Sociometric studies analyze social relationships as nodes and ties, wherein nodes refer to individuals and ties refer to the relationship between the individuals. Therefore, data from sociometric studies help to identify how the relationship of an individual to their social network and the characteristics of such a network can influence the outcomes of an event (in this case, eating and weight loss). One of the earliest studies on the influence of the social network on obesity was conducted by Dr. Christakis and Dr. Fowler in 2007. The study continually assessed a densely connected network of 12,067 people from 1971 to 2003. They found out that
Obesity could spread through social relationships.
The chance of a person getting obese surged by 57% if they had a friend who is obese.
The chance of a person getting obese surged by 40% if their sibling is obese. It has also been suggested that school friendships and peer networks among youth in high-income countries can affect eating behavior and body weight. A study on the effect of peers on adolescent eating behaviors found that fast-food consumption was found to cluster among males. In contrast, body-image issues and eating disorders seemed to cluster among females. Popularity and risk of isolation seemed to motivate the eating behavior in such groups. The family undermining of healthy eating can also promote weight gain.
Effect of social interaction on weight loss
Despite the potential negative effects of peers on health, psychology studies have also revealed that positive social interactions can be important for the success of a weight-loss intervention. Through motivation, facilitation, or an instructional role, support from family and friends has been proven to show a positive correlation to weight loss through increased physical activity. A study conducted by psychologists from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine demonstrated that the participants of a weight loss program who were recruited along with their friends and received support from their social network were more successful after a four and ten-month period than the participants who were recruited alone. Only 76% of independent participants fulfilled the treatment than 95% of participants who joined with their friends. Support from close friends and coworkers can also help in weight loss through healthy eating habits. Lack of a social network to provide counsel regarding diets has been shown to impede weight loss. Social support can help an individual learn and choose better from the multitude of information available regarding diets and healthy eating. However, family support for eating habits may not significantly influence weight loss as there exists a possibility of intentional or unintentional undermining for healthy eating in a family setting. Among low-income women, support from partners appears to be a driving force to lose weight, but family-centric behaviors can bar this.
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