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Gaining weight? It’s because of your friends, says new study

Friends influence your eating habits and might either nudge you towards or away from a healthy lifestyle

health and fitness Updated: Jul 27, 2012 18:00 IST

Women tend to mimic the eating behaviour of their friends, bite for bite, when dining out

Are your friends sporty and healthy eaters, or more of a beer-and-pizza crowd? A new study in the US states that the answer could provide some insight into the current state of your body. To conduct the study, David Shoham and his team at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine examined data from two large suburban high schools that participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in 1994 and 1995.

Over the course of two years, the students were surveyed on their weight, friendships, sports activities and television and computer time. Researchers also calculated each student’s body mass index (BMI). The results, published in the journal PLoS ONE last month, found that students were more likely to gain weight if they had friends who were heavier in weight than they were. The converse was also true: students were more likely to lose weight or gain weight at a slower pace if they had a slimmer group of friends.

According to the researchers who conducted the study, findings suggest that your friends may influence your lifestyle decisions both directly as well as indirectly.

Directly, they may nudge you towards a healthy way of living by going for a bike ride or trying out a new yoga class. Indirectly, they could influence what you regard as appropriate body size and eating and exercise habits.

A separate study published in the same journal in February finds that women tend to mimic the eating behaviour of their friends, bite for bite, when dining out.

A 2007 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine also found that both obesity and thinness are socially contagious and influence the social network’s body weight. If one person is obese, odds that his or her friends will also become obese, increases by 50 per cent, the study found.

First Published: Jul 27, 2012 15:28 IST