Body mass index tied to friendships, relationships

September 29th, 2009  |  by  |  Published in Research News

Two new articles by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa faculty look at the effect of peers on weight gain and impact of weight on relationships.

Writing in Economics and Human Biology, Assistant Professors of Economics Timothy J. Halliday and Sally Kwak report a strong correlation between adolescents’ own body mass index and that of their friends.

Based on a nationally representative sample, the correlation persists even after controlling for factors such as race, sex and age, and is stronger among girls than boys.

Evidence that taller students (especially male) tend to select taller peers suggests that similar selection may be likely with respect to body mass index, the authors write. They emphasize, however, that their results cannot distinguish whether overweight adolescents influence their friends to also become overweight or choose overweight friends because they are socially ostracized by their slimmer peers.

Findings on the impact of peers could influence school-based interventions to combat obesity among youth.

Meanwhile, a separate study points to mechanisms that may contribute to relationship difficulties experienced by heavier women even within established romantic relationships.

Writing in the July 2009 Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, UH Mānoa Associate Professor of Psychology Janet Latner and a New Zealand colleague report on associations between a woman’s body mass index and perceptions about the relationship among 57 dating or married New Zealand couples.

Heavier women had lower quality relationships and were more likely to predict the relationship would end. They partnered with less desirable men and thought their partners would rate them as less warm/trustworthy.

The male partners of heavier women judged the women’s bodies less positively and rated heavier women as poorer matches to their ideal partners for attractiveness/vitality.

A man’s body mass index was generally not associated with relationship functioning.

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