Friends could help friends lose weight

Overweight and obese young adults may be known by the company they keep--other overweight and obese people. But if those friends and family members are trying to lose weight, they could be a good influence.

How social groups influence our health was the subject of a 2007 New England Journal of Medicine study that found that people who had close friends who were fat might triple their risk of becoming obese as well.

A similar connection was found in a study from the June issue of the journal Obesity. But researchers found that connection may also help people lose weight. In this study, 288 people age 18 to 25 (mostly white women) answered questions about their weight, the weight of their romantic partner, close friends and casual friends, relatives and colleagues. They were also quizzed on how many of their social contacts were trying to lose weight, and if they were trying to lose weight as well. Questions also focused on social norms: how socially acceptable they believed it was to be overweight and how influential their social contacts were in terms of their own weight loss.

Overweight and obese people were more apt to have overweight romantic partners and had more overweight best friends, casual friends and relatives compared with normal weight people. Having more social contacts who were trying to shed pounds was linked with a bigger drive to lose weight, as was having friends and family who encouraged them to lose weight, helped them do it, or just endorsed the decision.


In the study, the authors wrote, “weight loss interventions that target young adults may be more successful at recruiting and retaining participants if they not only encourage individuals to join with friends and/or family but, even more importantly, aim to increase social norms for weight control among young adult participants and their close social ties.”