Adolescent Weight Gain and Social Networks: Is There a Contagion Effect?
Mir M. Ali
Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration
University of Toledo - Department of Economics
Central University of Finance and Economics (CUFE)
City University of New York (CUNY) - School of Public Affairs
March 10, 2011
Applied Economics, Forthcoming
Previous studies on the spread of obesity in social networks have focused on the contemporaneous effect of peer weight outcomes on individuals. The present paper is the first to investigate the longer term effects, within adolescence and from adolescence into early adulthood, of peers on individual weight outcomes. Using data from the first three waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and accounting for correlated effects using a number of empirical strategies including school-level fixed effects and accounting for neighborhood preferences, we show that BMI and overweight status in a person’s friendship network influence their BMI and likelihood of being overweight. The evidence suggests that there is some persistence of the effects of past peer weight experiences on individual weight outcomes during adolescence and into early adulthood. The findings are consistent with adolescence being an important formative period of individuals’ preference for ideal physique and own body weight aspirations. We conclude that policy makers should be particularly concerned with interventions during childhood and adolescence, in order to slow the spread of obesity by promoting a healthy body image and positive health behaviors.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 32
Keywords: Peer Effects, Obesity, Adolescence
JEL Classification: I10, Z13Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: March 10, 2011
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