Adolescent Body Mass Index and Exposure to Peers with Overweight and Obesity: A Structural Equation Model Approach to Longitudinal Network Data

Child Obes. 2022 Oct;18(7):445-453. doi: 10.1089/chi.2021.0270. Epub 2022 Feb 1.


Purpose: Considerable evidence has shown that social networks influence a wide variety of health behaviors. This study investigates whether having friends with overweight/obesity in one's social network (network exposure) can predict changes in body mass index (BMI) throughout high school in a diverse urban population of students. Methods: Racially and ethnically diverse students from five high schools in Los Angeles County were surveyed at four time points throughout high school from 2010 to 2013 (N = 2091). Surveys included questions on students' social networks, demographics, and health-related information. BMI and weight categories were calculated for all students who provided height and weight information (∼50%). A latent growth curve model was used to assess the growth trajectory of BMI and the time-varying effect of network exposure to friends with overweight/obesity while controlling for demographic covariates. Results: Hispanic students had a significantly higher initial BMI compared with non-Hispanic students (p < 0.01). There was a significant positive slope for time on BMI growth (p < 0.01). Greater personal network exposure to friends with overweight/obesity was associated with a significant 0.65-point average increase in BMI (p < 0.05) at the first follow-up time point (T2) and a significant 0.62-point average increase in BMI (p < 0.01) at the last follow-up (T4) while controlling for covariates. Conclusions: Using structural equation modeling to understand the relationship between BMI and social networks, we found that increased network exposure to peers with overweight/obesity is associated with higher individual BMI, demonstrating that friendships may influence adolescents' weight status over time.

Keywords: adolescents; body mass index; high school; latent growth curve; obesity; overweight; social networks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Mass Index
  • Friends
  • Humans
  • Overweight* / epidemiology
  • Pediatric Obesity* / epidemiology
  • Peer Group