Overweight adolescents are indifferent about the weight of their friends, but not so the thin peers, who are more likely to choose friends whose weight status is like their own, researchers looking at teenagers' social networks say.
The role of obesity in friendships among young people is complicated, as are the ways relationships contribute to health, the researchers said. For instance, they wrote in the American Journal of Public Health on May 15, "[f]riendships among overweight adolescents may reinforce unhealthy behaviors that further exacerbate weight problems."
The researchers, David Schaefer and Sandra Simpkins of
The young people listed their five closest female friends and five closest male friends. The researchers accounted for selection of friends based on connections such as extracurricular activities or a mutual friend, to isolate weight status as a criterion.
Young people, the researchers said, are more likely to socially marginalize overweight peers and, as a result, overweight young people have an average of one fewer friend than normal weight teens. Teens who were not overweight were 30% more likely to select a friend who was not overweight than one who was, the researchers said.