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Social Influences on Obesity: Current Knowledge, Emerging Methods, and Directions for Future Research and Practice


Purpose of Review

Individuals tend to be socially connected with those of similar weight and obesity status. To inform future research and intervention development, we reviewed recent literature examining social influences on weight with a focus on mechanisms of social influence, populations studied, and emerging analytical methods.

Recent Findings

Social networks appear to influence weight gain and weight loss. It remains unclear what underlying mechanisms (e.g., social norms, social comparison, behavioral modeling) drive this relationship. Stochastic actor-oriented modeling is an important method in the field, but other work has leveraged natural experiment or randomized designs to study social influence.


Future networks and obesity research should examine social influence mechanisms, focus on diverse populations across the life course, and carefully consider how to adequately control for competing factors of social selection and physical environments.

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Fig. 1


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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NRS and PNZ received training support (T32 HD091058, PI: Aiello, Hummer) and general support (P2C HD050924, PI: Frankenberg) from the National Institutes of Health. LF was supported by the National Heart, Lung, And Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number K01HL138159.

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Correspondence to Leah Frerichs.

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Natalie R. Smith, Paul N. Zivich, and Leah Frerichs declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Smith, N.R., Zivich, P.N. & Frerichs, L. Social Influences on Obesity: Current Knowledge, Emerging Methods, and Directions for Future Research and Practice. Curr Nutr Rep 9, 31–41 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-020-00302-8

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  • Social networks
  • Obesity
  • Social influence
  • Social environment