Using social network analysis to clarify the role of obesity in selection of adolescent friends

  • Schaefer D
  • Simpkins S
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Objectives. We used social network analysis to examine how weight status affects friend selection, with an emphasis on homophily and the social marginalization of overweight youths. Methods. We used an exponential random graph model to assess the effects of body mass index (BMI) on friend selection while controlling for several alternative selection processes. Data were derived from 58 987 students in 88 US middle and high schools who took part in the 1994 to 1996 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Results. On average, overweight youths were less likely than nonoverweight youths to be selected as a friend; however, this effect differed according to the BMI of the person initiating the friendship. Nonoverweight youths were 30% more likely to select a nonoverweight friend than an overweight friend, whereas overweight youths were largely indifferent to the weight status of their friends. Friendship ties from overweight youths to nonoverweight peers were more likely than ties in the reverse direction. Conclusions. We found evidence consistent with homophily and social marginalization but only for the selection behavior of nonoverweight youths. We conclude that avoidance of overweight friends is the primary determinant of friendship patterns related to BMI.

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  • David R. Schaefer

  • Sandra D. Simpkins

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