Washington: While previous research has detailed the impact of social influence on health behaviours, no previous study has examined whether social ties influence weight status and weight loss intentions among young adults.
Now, a new US research has shown that family, friends and social ties influence weight gain and intentions for weight control in this difficult-to-reach age group.
The study is also the first to show that health behaviours cluster in social networks and suggested social norms, such as encouragement and approval from social contacts, may account for the association.
According to the researchers from the Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes Research Centre, obese young adults aged 18-25 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, obese young adults who had more social contacts trying to lose weight had greater weight loss intentions.
The study found that 40 percent of young adults were considered obese, and young adults experienced the highest rate of weight gain per year – typically one to two pounds – of any age group.
Lead author Tricia Leahey also pointed out that young adults were less likely to participate in behavioural weight loss interventions, and when they do, they tend to lose less weight than older adults.
The study included 288 young adults, majority female and Caucasian. While 151 individuals were of normal weight, 137 were considered obese.
All participants completed questionnaires to determine their weight and height, number of overweight social contacts (including best friends, romantic partners, casual friends, relatives and colleagues/classmates) and perceived social norms for obesity and obesity-related behaviours.
Obese 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, and intentions to lose weight within the next three months.
“Our data suggests that obesity ``clusters`` in this population. But interestingly, social norms for obesity 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,” she added.
The findings emphasize the importance of targeting social influence in the treatment and prevention of obesity in this high-risk age group.
The study is published online by the journal Obesity.