Peers Influence Teen Weight

Jim Liebelt | Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University | Monday, September 15, 2008

Peers Influence Teen Weight

Peer pressure influences just about everything a teen does -- including a teen's weight, U.S. researchers said.

Lead author Justin Trogdon, a health economist at RTI International, found the peer effect on weight was strongest among females and among adolescents who were at risk of becoming overweight.

"Our results may help explain the dramatic rise in obesity among adolescents in the past few decades," Trogdon said in a statement. "Peers can influence all of the significant weight-related choices for teens, including eating patterns, diets and physical activity. Peers also affect teens' perceptions of an acceptable weight."

The study also showed that teens with obese parents were more likely to be overweight themselves.

The resources used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health that surveyed young people in grades 7 through 12.

The study, published in the September issue of Journal of Health Economics, found that friends' weight is correlated with an adolescent's own weight even after considering demographics, smoking status, birth weight and household characteristics such as parental obesity.

Source: United Press International

Here's another example of the old "nature versus nurture" debate. When looking at typical adolescent behavior, one must consider the power of the "friendship cluster." Teens typically gravitate to a close circle of friends who share most of the same values and behaviors. So, do overweight teens gravitate to kids who are also overweight? It seems a reasonable assumption. The problem then with this study in my view is the lack of research into cause and effect. Do overweight teens find other overweight teens to befriend, or does the friendship choice and predictable relational influences cause kids to become overweight due to the peer pressure they experience? In the end, I'm not sure it's either/or, but most likely both dynamics at work.

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