The Influence of Body Weight on Social Network Ties among Adolescents

Mir Ali, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Aliaksandr Amialchuk, University of Toledo
John Rizzo, Stony Brook University, State University of New York (SUNY)

Evidence of negative stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination towards obese individuals has been widely documented. However, the effect of a larger body size on social network ties or friendship formations has not been investigated. In this paper, we explore the extent to which higher body weight results in social marginalization of adolescents. Using data from a nationally-representative sample of adolescents, we estimate endogeneity-corrected models including school-level fixed effects to account for bi-directionality and unobserved confounders to ascertain the effect of body weight on social network ties. Our results indicate that obese adolescents have fewer friends and are less socially integrated than their non-obese counterparts. We also find that such penalties in friendship networks are more pronounced among whites than African-Americans or Hispanics, with the effect being largest among white females. These results are robust to common environmental influences at the school-level and to controls for preferences, risk attitudes, low self-esteem and objective measures of physical attractiveness.

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Presented in Session 193: Determinants of the Well-Being of Children and Youth in the U.S.