Road Bump: Peer Pressure

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Peer pressure may be the root of all weight gain evil!

One of the biggest obstacles to success in weight loss or weight loss management is peer pressure.

Peer Pressure

You are out to eat with your family and they decide they want to order dessert or your son opens the box of Oreos.  Oreo cream is an invention made in Satan’s image.  It should be outlawed.  It is sweet and creamy tastes awesome, but the problem is two are just not enough.  

My wife is beside me on the couch eating chips.  The crunch is unnerving and it is almost impossible to resist as she offers me some from her bowl.  Does peer pressure result in poor diet and exercise choices?

We’ve all heard the statement, “You are what you eat.” New research shows that it’s not just what you eat that is an indicator of your weight, but also dependent on the friends and family with which you spend most of your time.  We are just beginning to understand the full impact of peer pressure and body weight, but it is clear that it is more than just will power.  Your friends and family plan might have a significant impact on your body composition and food choices.  


A study appearing in The New England Journal of Medicine by Fowler and Christakis suggests that obesity is not just an epidemic, it’s increasing among social groups faster than the population as a whole​[1]​,​[2]​.  This study used the Framingham network of over 12,000 patients to look at weight gain in social groups.  According to the research, if one member of the group became obese, the friends were 57% likely of becoming obese also.  So what does this mean?  It clearly indicates that obesity is higher in the circle of friends.  It postulates that this might be due to choices on the group or that like-minded people tend to hand together.  I guess it is true that “birds of a feather, flock together”.  This could also be peer pressure to choose a particular restaurant or food or the choice to avoid exercise.  

Does this mean that the disease is contagious?  Although it has been suggested by others, there is not enough evidence to suggest that obesity is infectious.  This being said, I would argue that it might be a good idea to find new friends or suggest they change their habits.  In the case of obese friends and you trying to stay or become slimmer, either you need new friends or better will power.  Unfortunately, you cannot choose your family.  

If peer pressure can cause weight gain, it can also assist in weight loss.  Another study looked at social support for weight loss and maintenance​[3]​.  It was a much smaller study with only 166 participants, but it did have an interesting finding that could benefit from more research.  The participant was divided into two groups randomly and given either standard behavioral treatment or standard behavioral treatment and social support.  The group with social support had improved maintenance of weight after weight loss by a 57% to 24% margin.    

The bottom line:  

Change is not easy and neither is weight loss.  If your family and friends like to eat out or order pizza for football games, you will have a difficult time changing the behavior.  To get the group to take a path to better health, it will take time and patience.  You either need to get more will power to enlist you family in assisting you.  Both are not simple to acquire.  


  1. [1]
    E. Cohen-Cole and J. Fletcher, “Is obesity contagious? Social networks vs. environmental factors in the obesity epidemic.,” J Health Econ, vol. 27, no. 5, pp. 1382–7, Sep. 2008, doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2008.04.005. [Online]. Available:
  2. [2]
    N. A. Christakis and J. H. Fowler, “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years,” N Engl J Med, pp. 370–379, Jul. 2007, doi: 10.1056/nejmsa066082. [Online]. Available:
  3. [3]
    R. Wing and R. Jeffery, “Benefits of recruiting participants with friends and increasing social support for weight loss and maintenance.,” J Consult Clin Psychol, vol. 67, no. 1, pp. 132–8, Feb. 1999, doi: 10.1037//0022-006x.67.1.132. [Online]. Available:
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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