Self-comparisons as motivators for healthy behavior

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Dec;23(12):2477-84. doi: 10.1002/oby.21201. Epub 2015 Oct 14.


Objective: We explored whether individuals' comparison of themselves to their social contacts, specifically feeling fitter or thinner than friends, is a significant predictor of three weight-loss behaviors (dieting, reducing alcohol, exercising).

Methods: We used a longitudinal survey of a national sample of Americans (N = 20,373) to measure respondents' personal social networks and their self-comparisons to their social contacts at two annual waves.

Results: Participants who felt thinner than friends in Wave 1 had 1.16 lower odds of dieting in Wave 2. Those who felt fitter than friends in Wave 1 had 1.10 times higher odds of reducing alcohol and 1.18 times higher odds of exercising in Wave 2. We found that 20% of the relationship between feeling thin at baseline and subsequent dieting may be because feeling heavier than friends makes one want to lose weight. This same dynamic accounts for 25% of the relationship between feeling fit and dieting and 12% of the relationship between feeling thin and reducing alcohol.

Conclusions: These results suggest that normative self-comparison with important others is a potentially salient determinant of obesity-related health behavior and appears to work differently depending upon the behavior. Interventions may benefit from exploiting social comparisons in targeted ways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Body Weight
  • Exercise / psychology
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Female
  • Friends / psychology
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Peer Influence*
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States