PHOENIX, Ariz. (CBS Las Vegas) – According to a new study, overweight teenagers have fewer friends than normal weight teens.
Researchers from Arizona State University surveyed 58,987 students from 88 middle and high schools. Of the students surveyed, 51 percent were female. The students were asked to give their body mass index and to identify their 10 closest friends.
“We found consistent evidence that overweight youth choose non-overweight friends more often than they were selected in return,” David R. Schaefer, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change, said in a press release put out by the university.
Researchers found that overweight teens were more likely to reach out to normal weight teens for friendship, however the normal weight teen would reject their call for friendship leading the overweight teen to look for friendship with another overweight teen.
As a result, overweight teens tend to have one fewer friend on average than normal weight teens.
“This is especially troubling since friendships are important sources of support and companionship,” Sandra D. Simpkins, an associate professor at T. Denny Sanford school of Social and Family Dynamics, added in the press release. “Not having or losing friends is associated with higher depression and lower self-worth for young people, which could exacerbate the health problems associated with being overweight.”
The researchers noted in the study that not having friends because of extra weight can be difficult during teenage years.
“Negative repercussions of not having friends may be more pronounced in middle and high school when intimacy and flitting into peer groups is critical,” Schaefer said.
The researchers analyzed data obtained through social media. This helped the researchers account for different ways teenagers may select friends. They also looked at similarities, extracurricular activities, and mutual friends.
“Long-term implications of the study include considering ramification of social marginalization for prevention and intervention strategies that support the emotional development of overweight youth,” Simpkins said.
The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.