Obese adolescents tend to have fewer friends at school than their peers, finds a new study in Ethnicity & Disease. However, the impact of obesity on friendships varies by ethnic group, with white students faring worse than black or Hispanic students.

The research team used data drawn from the school-based National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The team’s sample comprised 15,355 adolescents in grades 7 through 12. Each student was asked to list up to five same-sex friends from within school or outside of school. By linking students’ responses, the researchers could determine when students who listed a certain peer as a friend were in turn listed by that peer as a friend. This information was used to assess “social integration.”

“We found that obese adolescents were picked as friends by only 3 schoolmates, compared to the average adolescent who was not obese, who was identified as a friend by 5 schoolmates,” said lead author Solveig Argeseanu Cunningham, Ph.D., of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.

Obese teens did not report having fewer friends than their normal-weight peers. Differences only emerged in whether the friendship was reciprocated. Being obese had the greatest effects on the reciprocity of white teens’ friendships. For non-white teens, especially black girls, being obese did not reduce their number of school friends. One explanation could be the different ideals of beauty among different ethnic groups, with African-American and some Hispanic cultures being more accepting of larger bodies, offered Cunningham.

Source: Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health
http://www.cfah.org/hbns/archives/getDocument.cfm?documentID=22536