Obesity may cluster among social groups

Obesity has become a nationwide epidemic. This has had a destructive impact on the rate of type 2 diabetes. A new study from a team of Miriam Hospital researchers has shown that a person’s social network may play a large role in whether or not they are obese or able to lose weight.

The idea in and of itself is not exactly groundbreaking. Earlier studies have shown that social ties have a strong influence on an individual’s decision to pursue a healthy lifestyle. However, the new study is among the first to show that obesity and diabetes also tend to cluster among social groups.

For the study, which was published in the journal Obesity, researchers took body mass index measurements from 288 participants between the ages of 18 and 25. These individuals were then surveyed about the number of overweight social contacts they had and their perception of social norms relating to weight.

The researchers found that overweight or obese participants were 11 percent more likely to have an overweight romantic partner and 10 percent more likely to have an overweight best friend. They also had a greater chance of having obesity in their family and were less likely to perceive weight loss as an important goal.

Weight gain tends to be most pronounced among young adults. Tricia Leahy, who led the study, said that their findings provide important insights into why this is and may help public health officials design effective weight loss programs for these individuals, which may help curb the rising type 2 diabetes rate.

"Identifying the factors that influence both weight status and weight control in this high-risk age group can help us develop appealing and effective obesity treatment and prevention programs for this population," she said.