A very common trend that is often considered a serious obstacle in cutting the rise of obesity is that young people are very influenced by what their friends are eating.
Although parents, teachers and government health campaigns can help to educated young people, their decisions regarding eating can quickly be changed by seeing friends eat something else. The problem starts as childhood and often gets worse in teenagers.
The research looked at the relationship between young people’s social networks (real networks, not Facebook) and their weight and eating habits.
Their studies showed that school friends are significantly similar in terms of weight and eating habits. Children with the highest body mass index tend to be friends with other very overweight children.
Obesity and Social Isolation
Social isolation was also common amongst over eaters which often makes the problem worse. This was noted in exercise will not help obese children which showed that often children become overweight before they become inactive and concluded that children’s diet needs to be tackled to reverse weight gain, not lack of exercise.
The main conclusion was that school friends are very influential in changing the eating habits of children. Kids want to be accepted in social groups and eating the same types of food, no matter how unhealthy or unsuitable, is often one way they try to fit in.
Playground Influence of Food Choices
Although there still needs to be major changes to the food industry with stricter rules being handed down from government, the playground influence needs to be tackled by schools too.
All too often people quickly blame the parents for not guiding their children well enough, however, this study shows that healthy parents can find that their children and teenagers especially will rebel against their choices to fit in with friends of their age.
“You are what your friends eat: systematic review of social network analyses of young people’s eating behaviours and bodyweight” by Adam Fletcher, Chris Bonell, Annik Sorhaindo. J Epidemiol Community Health doi:10.1136/jech.2010.113936.