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May 15, 2014 06:33 PM EDT

Overweight Teens Are More Likely To Be Rejected As Friends

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Overweight teens are more likely to be rejected as friends by peers who are normal weight, according to a recent study.

Researchers from Arizona State University found that overweight youth were mostly indifferent to the weight status of their friends. These results suggest that overweight youth often reach out to non-overweight peers for friendship, but are sometimes rebuffed in those efforts. As a consequence, overweight youth may turn to overweight peers for friendship.

"We found consistent evidence that overweight youth choose non-overweight friends more often than they were selected in return," researcher David Schaefer said in a statement.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health that surveyed more than 58,900 students in 88 middle and high schools. Approximately 20 percent of students surveyed provided body mass index data. Students who participated in the study identified their 10 closest friends, five of whom were female and five who were male.

Researchers also utilized social network analysis in the study in order to account for different types of friend selection processes, such as attraction based on similarities, meeting during extracurricular activities, or meeting through a mutual friend. This allowed the researchers to isolate the effect of weight status on friend selection.

"Long-term implications of the study include considering ramifications of social marginalization for prevention and intervention strategies that support the emotional development of overweight youth," researchers Sandra Simpkins said in a statement. "It's important to keep in mind that overweight youth still have lots of friends. Having just one friend makes a big difference. And, it's less important how many friends teens have; what is key is that those friends are supportive."

They also found that young people are also more likely to socially marginalize those who are overweight. As a consequence, overweight youth have one fewer friend, on average, than normal weight young people.

"This is especially troubling since friendships are important sources of support and companionship," Simpkins said. "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 findings were recently published in the American Journal of Public Health.

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