Overweight kids eat more when they’re with familiar friends who are also overweight, says a new study out of the University of Buffalo.
Researchers recruited 65 kids between the ages of 9 and 15, then randomly paired them up. Kids spent 45 minutes together in a room with various activities, as well as bowls of food — healthy snacks and not-so-healthy too. What researchers discovered is that friend pairs ate more than children who didn’t know each other. And overweight kids ate more than thin kids no matter who their partner was. But overweight friends ate the most of all.
While the results are not surprising — I think that this behavior is probably found in adults,too — it does highlight how complex the issue of childhood obesity really is. Eating is a deeply social behavior, but this study shows that social relationships can also have an impact on how much a child eats.
While two overweight friends with a bowl of potato chips might not be good for each other, study author Sarah-Jeanne Salvy told Newsweek that this finding indicates that if one makes a positive change in their eating habits, those strong social ties could help their friends. “If one of the kids starts changing,” says Salvy, “chances are the other kid is going to model those behaviors.”
Helping overweight kids lose weight is one of those parenting issues that leave little room for error. One slight misstep can cause emotional hurt and even backfire, causing the child to eat more. So suggesting that they pick thinner friends isn’t really what study authors hope parents will take away from this. Instead, encouraging and modeling healthy lifestyle changes (for the whole family) will hopefully give kids the confidence they need to resist that urge to munch. And those healthy changes may just catch on among their friends.
For more on helping your child make healthy lifestyle choices, visit TeensHealth.
Photo: Bah Humbug, Flickr