Your parents have probably told you this a million times when you were a teenager: “Be careful in selecting your friends” or “You should hang out with the right crowd” or “That kid is bad news, I don’t want you to go out with him” and so on.
Back then those remarks were pretty frustrating to handle because no 16 years old wants to be told with whom he should or should not hang out.
But, as it often happens, your parents were right. Having the right friends will not only keep you out of trouble when you’re a teen, but will help you keep those extra pounds off and leading an overall healthier lifestyle. As a newly published study in the journal PLoS ONE has provided new evidence on how a person’s circle of friends may influence his/her weight and health.
Researchers from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, led by Prof. David Shoham have discovered that high school students were more likely to gain weight if they had friends who were heavier than they were. Conversely, students were more likely to be more in shape if their friends were leaner than them.
But that’s not all, a student’s social network (the real one, not the Facebook/Twitter stuff) plays a major role in determining whether one is active or not.
"These results can help us develop better interventions to prevent obesity," Shoham said. "We should not be treating adolescents in isolation."
The researchers wanted to assess the reason why obesity and related behaviors cluster in social networks: Is it because friends influence one another’s behavior? Or is it because lean adolescents tend to have lean friends and heavier adolescents tend to have heavier friends?
Researchers found that part of the reason why obesity cluster in social networks was due to the way students selected friends. But even after controlling for this friend-selecting process, there still was a significant link between obesity and a student’s circle of friends.
The findings, researchers concluded, show that social influence “tends to operate more in detrimental directions, especially for BMI; a focus on weight loss is therefore less likely to be effective than a primary prevention strategy against weight gain. Effective interventions will be necessary to overcome these barriers, requiring that social networks be considered rather than ignored."
Shoham also noted that the study has several limitations (biased self-reported data, observational versus experimental data, etc.) but still believes that the results add to the vigorous debate over the relative importance of selection of peer influence in network studies of health.
The idea that your friends influence your life and also your health is pretty self-explanatory. In fact you select friends because, among other things, of common interests. Being healthy and active is more than a common interest, it’s a lifestyle choice.
This means that if you’re trying to get back in shape it might be a good idea to start to hang out with your active friends that hit the gym more often, eat clean and lead a healthier lifestyle. And maybe spend a little less time with your “party” friends, at least for a while...
The Iron You
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Loyola University Health System via EurekaAlert!