Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Targeting popular teens not all that effective in fighting obesity, study finds

Date:
June 9, 2014
Source:
Loyola University Health System
Summary:
In the fight against teenage obesity, some researchers have proposed targeting popular teens, in the belief that such kids would have an outsize influence on their peers. But researchers were surprised to find this strategy would be only marginally more effective than targeting overweight kids at random.

In the fight against teenage obesity, some researchers have proposed targeting popular teens, in the belief that such kids would have an outsize influence on their peers.

But in a Loyola University Chicago study, researchers were surprised to find that this strategy would be only marginally more effective than targeting overweight kids at random.

Results are published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

"I don't think targeting popular kids would be worth the extra effort it would take to identify them," said David Shoham, PhD, MSPH, senior author of the study. Shoham is a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Previous studies by Shoham and other researchers have found that a person's circle of friends may influence that person's weight. A 2012 study published in PLoS ONE by Shoham and colleagues found that students were more likely to gain weight if they had friends who were heavier than they were. Conversely, students were more likely to get trimmer -- or gain weight at a slower pace -- if their friends were leaner than they were.

The new study extended these findings. It's based on a survey of 624 students at a rural high school in the Midwest. Each student was asked to name up to five male and five female friends. Also, each student's body mass index (BMI) was recorded. (BMI is calculated from a person's height and weight; a BMI over 25 is considered overweight and a BMI over 30 is considered obese.)

Using this real-world data, researchers performed in silico experiments to test various hypotheses and weight-loss interventions. (In silico means performed on a computer.) Not surprisingly, these computer simulations found that overweight kids who were friends with other overweight kids gained more weight than overweight kids whose friends were healthy weight.

"You can catch obesity from your friends if they are overweight or obese," Shoham said. "Conversely, if your friends are at healthy weights, you likely will gain less weight."

However, researchers were surprised by what they found when they simulated weight-loss programs in which overweight kids lost 4 BMI points. In one such weight-loss intervention, researchers randomly selected a group of overweight kids. In a second intervention, the researchers selected overweight kids who were highly popular. (A student's popularity was based on how many other kids named the student as a friend.)

When randomly selected kids were targeted to lose weight, the school's overall overweight/obesity rate dropped from 24 percent to 19.5 percent. When the most popular kids were targeted to lose weight, the result was only marginally better, with the school's overall overweight/obesity rate dropping to 18.7 percent.

"Targeting popular kids has been suggested as an approach for fighting obesity, smoking and other unhealthy behaviors in teens," Shoham said. "Our study indicates that unfortunately this approach may not be especially effective."

Previous studies have used computer simulations to explore obesity interventions based on friendship patterns. But these patterns have been based on made-up or otherwise unrealistic representations of kids' social networks. (By social networks, researchers mean face-to-face friendships, not Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.)

"We tried to make the networks as realistic as possible," Shoham said. "So rather than make up a network from scratch, we used adolescents' real social networks as the starting point. Moreover, we allowed the social network to be dynamic, reflecting the real-world tendency for teen networks to change over time."

Shoham cautioned that the study will not be the final word on whether social networks will be a useful tool for preventing or treating obesity. There are many other possible social network interventions that have not yet been explored. Also, some of the assumptions Shoham made in building the model may be too simplistic or otherwise wrong. For example, Shoham assumed that adolescents behave like their average friends. But there are other ways, such as teasing, in which adolescents may influence one another. Shoham also left out other influences from the model, such as parents.

"Nevertheless, we based our simulations as much as possible on real-world data," Shoham said. "So despite the limitations of our study, we believe it is a significant step forward in designing better and more useful simulations -- and also in ruling out interventions that could prove to be dead ends."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Loyola University Health System. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. Zhang, L. Tong, P.J. Lamberson, R. Durazo, A. Luke, D.A. Shoham. Leveraging social influence to address overweight and obesity using agent-based models: the role of adolescent social networks. Social Science & Medicine, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.05.049

Cite This Page:

Loyola University Health System. "Targeting popular teens not all that effective in fighting obesity, study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140609140710.htm>.
Loyola University Health System. (2014, June 9). Targeting popular teens not all that effective in fighting obesity, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140609140710.htm
Loyola University Health System. "Targeting popular teens not all that effective in fighting obesity, study finds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140609140710.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Gilead's $1000-a-Pill Drug Could Cure Hep C in HIV-Positive People

Gilead's $1000-a-Pill Drug Could Cure Hep C in HIV-Positive People

TheStreet (July 21, 2014) New research shows Gilead Science's drug Sovaldi helps in curing hepatitis C in those who suffer from HIV. In a medical study, the combination of Gilead's Hep C drug with anti-viral drug Ribavirin cured 76% of HIV-positive patients suffering from the most common hepatitis C strain. Hepatitis C and related complications have been a top cause of death in HIV-positive patients. Typical medication used to treat the disease, including interferon proteins, tended to react badly with HIV drugs. However, Sovaldi's %1,000-a-pill price tag could limit the number of patients able to access the treatment. TheStreet's Keris Lahiff reports from New York. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com
$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

Newsy (July 20, 2014) Cynthia Robinson claims R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company hid the health and addiction risks of its products, leading to the death of her husband in 1996. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tooth Plaque Provides Insight Into Diets Of Ancient People

Tooth Plaque Provides Insight Into Diets Of Ancient People

Newsy (July 19, 2014) Research on plaque from ancient teeth shows that our prehistoric ancestor's had a detailed understanding of plants long before developing agriculture. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Contaminated Water Kills 3 Babies in South African Town

Contaminated Water Kills 3 Babies in South African Town

AFP (July 18, 2014) Contaminated water in South Africa's northwestern town of Bloemhof kills three babies and hospitalises over 500 people. The incident highlights growing fears over water safety in South Africa. Duration: 02:22 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins