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Analysis of Friendship Network and its Role in Explaining Obesity.

Abstract

We employ Add Health data to show that friendship networks, constructed from mutual friendship nominations, are important in building weight perception, setting weight goals and measuring social marginalization among adolescents and young adults. We study the relationship between individuals' perceived weight status, actual weight status, weight status relative to friends' weight status and weight goals. This analysis helps us understand how individual weight perceptions might be formed, what these perceptions do to the weight goals, and how does friends' relative weight affect weight perception and weight goals. Combining this information with individuals' friendship network helps determine the influence of social relationships on weight related variables. Multinomial logistic regression results indicate that relative status is indeed a significant predictor of perceived status, and perceived status is a significant predictor of weight goals. We also address the issue of causality between actual weight status and social marginalization (as measured by the number of friends) and show that obesity precedes social marginalization in time rather than the other way around. This lends credence to the hypothesis that obesity leads to social marginalization not vice versa. Attributes of friendship network can provide new insights into effective interventions for combating obesity since adolescent friendships provide an important social context for weight related behaviors.

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