Abstract

Background Social relationships have been proposed as a significant factor shaping obesity risk. The first year of college, a period of major social, behavioral, and weight changes, provides a context well-suited to tracking longitudinally the impact of shifting friendships on weight outcomes. This study sought to identify social mechanisms impacting BMI change among emerging adults. Methods An analytic sample of 276 college students (71.0% female, 52.2% non-White) provided repeated reports of relationships and BMI was measured up to four times during 2015–2016. Stochastic actor-oriented models were used to examine change in BMI through social influence and change in friendships over time, controlling for sex and race/ethnicity. Results At baseline, mean BMI was 24.2±4.5 kg/m2. Overall, mean BMI increased over time; individual decreases in BMI were uncommon. There was a selection effect of BMI: participants with BMIs between 22 and 26 kg/m2 were most likely to be nominated as a friend. While participants did not select friends based on BMI similarity, participants who were reported as friends were more likely to experience convergence in BMI over time relative to the BMIs of non-friends (p = 0.015). An increase in BMI (versus stability or a decrease) was more likely for those whose friends had a higher BMI on average compared to participants whose friends had the same or lower BMI (OR = 2.85, 95% CI = 1.22, 6.71). Conclusion Analyses indicated BMI affected friend selection, not through students selecting friends with similar BMI, but rather, by students avoiding friends with more extreme BMI levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0208894
JournalPLoS One
Volume13
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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