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Overweight teens may face harsh rejection from their peers

Harold Mandel's picture
A teen weighing herself

The problem of being overweight and obese has been hitting epidemic levels. Our modern day societies appear to be addicted to sedentary lifestyles and lousy food which is contributing to this problem. There are serious medical problems such as hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes associated with being overweight. There are also often serious emotional and social problems associated with being overweight.

Obesity has been found to play a significant role in the selection of adolescent friends reports the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers at Arizona State University used a social network analysis in order to investigate how weight status affects the selection of friends. They considered homophily and the social marginalization of overweight youths.

Overweight Youth Have Difficulties When Building Friendships

It was discovered that on the average youths who were overweight were not as likely as youths who were not overweight to be chosen as a friend. However, it was seen that this effect varied according to the BMI of the person who was initiating the new friendship. Youths who were not overweight were 30 percent more likely to choose a friend who was not overweight than a friend who was overweight. The overweight youths were overall found to be indifferent to the weight status of their friends. It was more likely to see friendship ties from overweight youths to peers who were not overweight than ties in the opposite direction.

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The researchers discovered evidence which was consistent with homophily and social marginalization, but only in dealing with the selection behavior youths who were not overweight. They concluded that avoidance of overweight friends is the primary determinant of friendship patterns which are associated with BMI. The bottom line is overweight teens are more likely to be stigmatized by their peers reports Arizona State University in an discussion of this research.

The researchers found consistent evidence that overweight youth choose friends who are not overweight more often than they are chosen in return. For the most part overweight youth were indifferent to the weight status of their friends. It is suggested by these findings that overweight youth often reach out to peers who are not overweight for friendship but they are often rejected. This may result in overweight youth turning to overweight peers for friendship.

Don't marginalize overweight people

People who are young are also more likely to socially marginalize people who are overweight. It has been found overweight youth therefore have one fewer friend, on the average, than people who are of normal weight. The researchers have pointed out this is particularly troubling because friendships are vital sources of support and companionship. It has been noted that not having or losing friends is associated with increased depression and lower self-worth for young people. This clearly may exacerbate the health problems which are associated with being overweight.

It is clear that being overweight may have even more serious consequences for the well being of youth than previously realized. Aside from the serious medical problems associated with being overweight the likewise serious social and emotional problems associated with being overweight should not be ignored. Perhaps helping overweight youth confront the realities of these problems could help motivate them to work hard to lose those extra pounds.