Social Influences Are Associated With BMI and Weight Loss Intentions in Young Adults

Authors

  • Tricia M. Leahey,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, The Miriam Hospital/Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center, Providence, Rhode Island, USA
      (tleahey@lifespan.org)
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Jessica Gokee LaRose,

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, The Miriam Hospital/Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center, Providence, Rhode Island, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Joseph L. Fava,

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, The Miriam Hospital/Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center, Providence, Rhode Island, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Rena R. Wing

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, The Miriam Hospital/Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center, Providence, Rhode Island, USA
    Search for more papers by this author

(tleahey@lifespan.org)

Abstract

Christakis and colleagues have shown that health behaviors cluster in social networks and suggest social norms may account for the clustering. This study examined: (i) whether obesity clusters among young adults and whether social norms do in fact account for the clustering, and (ii) among overweight/obese (OW/OB) young adults, whether number of social contacts trying to lose weight is associated with weight loss intentions and whether social norms for weight loss account for this effect. Normal weight (NW) and OW/OB young adults (N = 288; 66% female; 75% white) completed measures assessing number of OW social contacts and social norms for obesity. OW/OB young adults also indicated number of OW social contacts currently trying to lose weight, social norms for weight loss, and weight loss intentions. Compared to NW, OW/OB young adults were more likely to have OW romantic partners and best friends and had more OW casual friends and family members (Ps < 0.05), but social norms for obesity did not differ between groups, and social norms did not mediate the relationship between OW social contacts and participants' weight status. However, among OW/OB young adults, having more social contacts trying to lose weight was associated with greater intention to lose weight (r = 0.20, P = 0.02) and social norms for weight loss fully mediated this effect (P < 0.01). This study is the first to show that social contacts and normative beliefs influence weight status and intentions for weight control in young adults. Findings underscore the importance of targeting social influence in the treatment and prevention of obesity in this high-risk age group.

Ancillary