Purpose To investigate whether social interactions in friendship networks influence the following weight-related behaviors of adolescents: exercising regularly, playing an active sport, hours of TV/Video viewing, sleeping six or fewer hours, eating breakfast on weekdays, frequency of eating at fast food restaurants, eating five servings of fruits/vegetables daily, and consuming calorie-dense snacks.
Method Data from a nationally representative sample of adolescents are used to examine the association between peer and individual weight-related behaviors. Evidence from multivariate regression analysis controlling for an extensive list of individual- and family-level factors as well as school-level unobserved heterogeneity is obtained. Results We find a significant positive association between individuals' and friends' behaviors in terms of sports, exercise and fast food consumption. The estimated associations are robust to controls for individual- and family-level factors, unobserved heterogeneity at the school level and our attempts to account for non-random peer selection.
Conclusions The social transmission of weight-related behaviors is a viable explanation for the spread of obesity in friendship networks documented in recent research. Traditional weight reduction interventions may be fruitfully complemented with strategies that focus on harnessing peer support to modify behaviors.